11 questions with… Wendy van Lieshout, CEO Active Adventures

This week LATTE chats with Wendy van Lieshout, the Chief Executive Officer of Active Adventures in New Zealand.

Wendy took the CEO role with Active Adventures in July 2019 and has a wealth of industry experience across corporate, leisure and retail. She has been the Director of the Travel Agents Association of New Zealand (TAANZ), and was General Manager for companies including APX Travel Management, Helloworld Travel Limited, Retail Networks (NZ), and was the CEO of World Travellers New Zealand. Wendy is also a sitting Board member of Tourism Export Council New Zealand.

1. Wendy, what is Active Adventures and what is the company’s speciality?

Active Adventures is a Kiwi-operated company based in Queenstown that aims to get guests out exploring the most incredible highlights and hidden gems of the world. We want travellers to see landscapes through the eyes of a local, challenge themselves, enjoy life-changing experiences and be looked after by world-class guides and through top-notch service.

2. How long has the company been in operation?

We’ve been running trips in New Zealand for 25 years now. Our founder started Active Adventures in 1996 with nothing more than a car and a big idea. Before that, he was a tour guide for a New Zealand tour company, but as a keen hiker and someone who enjoyed exploring the New Zealand backcountry, he wanted to get people off the road and into the real New Zealand outdoors – so, Active Adventures was born!

Wendy van Lieshout, CEO Active Adventures
Milford Track (supplied)

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3. Where do your trips operate?

We have trips all around the globe, on six continents. Even if New Zealand is where we started and still the core of what we do (we have more than 20 tours on the South Island alone!), we also have tours in South America (Peru, Patagonia, Galapagos and Ecuador), the Himalayas (Nepal and Bhutan), Africa and Europe (Italy, France, Switzerland and Iceland). We recently launched trips in Australia and North America as well.

4. What is your most highly sought trip in New Zealand and why?

Our most popular trip is the 14-day Ultimate South Island adventure, otherwise known as our ‘Rimu’ trip. What makes this trip popular is its unique approach to exploring many of the South Island’s highlights, as well as its hidden gems. Guests will get an authentic glimpse into the rugged beauty of the South Island via kayaking in the Milford Sound, enjoying a multi-day hike in Nelson Lakes National Park and biking parts of the Alps 2 Ocean trail. It also offers heaps of flexibility, allowing guests to challenge themselves as much or as little as they’d like.

"Rimu", New Zealand (supplied)

5. What does a typical day on an Active Adventure involve?

While each day is unique and holds its own surprises, guests will enjoy getting into a routine of a hearty warm breakfast, a breath-taking hike, bike or kayak excursion, a healthy picnic lunch with a view followed by either a guide cooked dinner at a stunning lodge or heading to a local restaurant.

6. Where do guests stay on your trips? (What standard of accommodation is used)

Accommodation-wise, we stay in a real variety of places – from mountain huts to local hotels and lodges, so guests will be out in some amazing areas and meeting the local people who run these various establishments. We’ve spent years hunting down the coolest places to stay in New Zealand, and while we don’t do a tour of New Zealand’s most luxurious accommodations, we do appreciate having a comfortable place to stay at the end of a big day in the outdoors.

Milford Lodge, Milford Sound, New Zealand (supplied)

7. What is the demographic of your clientele and where do they come from?

Before COVID-19, the majority of our guests hailed from North America to explore New Zealand. Of course, border restriction put a halt on that, so we’ve used the past year to focus on getting Kiwis and Aussies out exploring the incredible landscapes of the South Island.

No matter the home country of our guests, we craft our adventures for a mature and creature comfort-loving crowd. Typically, our guests are in their 50’s and 60’s, but we do get some younger and some older as well. We find our guests are looking for a trip that will keep them active during the day, but at night, they’ll be enjoying quality food, comfortable accommodations and a glass of local wine.

8. How many guests does each trip allow, and how many guides?

The most we’d have on a trip is 14 guests. However, typically, we’ll have between 6 to 10. Because we keep our group sizes small, people often say our trips are more like travelling with a group of friends than being on a ‘tour’.

Each trip will also have two experienced guides and, in some cases, three. We’re very picky when it comes to choosing people to lead our trips. All our guides are locals with great attitudes, extensive knowledge of New Zealand and its flora and fauna, and a genuine interest in going that extra mile and offering people the trip of a lifetime.

9. Do you operate FIT and/or tailored trips for clients wanting a tour to themselves?

We’re always happy to organise private and custom trips for clients or groups wanting a tour to themselves. Depending on what they’re all keen to do and see, we can either turn one of our set trips into a private trip or alter one of our adventures to suit those on board. As our trips start filling up nearly a year in advance, it is best for private groups to start planning as early as possible.

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, West Coast - South Island, New Zealand (supplied)

10. What other parts of the world does Active Adventures have its eye on?

We’re always keeping our finger on the pulse in travel trends and unique places to explore. While we can’t let you in on any secrets, we always recommend travel agents sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date with all of our new trips and happenings here at Active Adventures.

11. How does Active Adventures work with travel advisors/how do they book clients

By working with us you will have access to our full product range, all of which are fully commissionable. We can help you sell our products by providing marketing material and sales assistance to ensure you find the right trip for your client.

Each of our products includes all-inclusive pricing (so agents even earn commission on all food and activities) and we will provide detailed trip itineraries, assistance with pre and post-trip accommodation and a knowledgeable sales team that can assist you with securing your client’s booking.

For more information on Active Adventures, see activeadventures.com/

Lead image: Lake Okarito Lagoon, South Island, New Zealand

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