‘Pay what you can’ pays off for Wanaka operator

When New Zealand came out of its first lockdown in May last year, Mark Morrison Director of WildWire Wanaka who run the world's highest waterfall cable climbs above Lake Wanaka, assumed like the rest of New Zealand that inter-regional travel wouldn’t be possible. 

“We just decided to open up and let people pay whatever they want. Our motivation was just to keep our one remaining guide busy, so we thought we’d give it a go and have some fun.”

When travel was unexpectedly permitted under alert level two his Koha ‘pay what you can’ concept really took off. Stuff travel profiled them and suddenly his business went viral around New Zealand with the article viewed 1.75 million times.

“We had 1,000 people through those two months after lockdown and ended up running five trips a day. We went from employing eight guides before the pandemic to having 17 guides just to keep up with demand.”

Having a visitor base of around 80% international visitors prior to the pandemic meant the impact of borders closing on WildWire Wanaka was devasting.

“But we knew we had a product that Kiwis would like so we just had to find out how to target them.”

It turns out Kiwis are a generous bunch and the suggested cost of a discounted $75 ended up averaging out at $85 per trip.

“Most paid the $75 or more, and we even had a few come back after their experience and pay extra because they enjoyed it so much.”

“While we didn’t make a profit during that winter, we kept the business going and more importantly we kept staff employed and this spread to the helicopter and lunch services that support us.”

Mark’s dedication to staff has continued as visitor numbers continue to fluctuate, “As we head into winter again, we try and do what we can when times aren’t busy. Some of our guides are now helping to build new tracks and products. It gives them new skills and more importantly keeps them working.”

Being situated on a private station supports WildWire to reach its sustainability goals, with ample room to plant native trees. They’ve planted 400 already and are working towards being carbon positive.

“We want to include visitors in this process too. I’m looking ahead to when my grandchildren are around, we like to have lot of visitors just like anyone but there are bigger opportunities for tourism to become more sustainable and I think everyone wants that.”