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The Significance of Travel - Things New Zealand Taught Me

Incentive travel is one of the most experiential and memorable rewards you could offer your employees. With so many destinations to choose from, it can often be a tough decision-making process to pick the perfect incentive destination that not only offers a reward of a lifetime, but also inspires individuals within your organisation.

Ever considered New Zealand? BI WORLDWIDE’s Events Project Executive, Teresa Allen, recently undertook a two-month sabbatical and travelled to New Zealand and Bali for a voyage of self-discovery and enlightenment. Teresa shares a flavour of her New Zealand experience with us and what it could potentially offer for an incentive trip of a lifetime!

Perceptions vs Reality

New Zealand. Never been there. Never even thought about going there, that is until my sabbatical opened up a window of time that was perfect for a long-distance journey.

Before my travels I had, rather naively, always accepted that New Zealand was just too far away to travel to. It just wasn’t a destination on my radar, let alone on my bucket-list. When I announced where I was travelling to, I was staggered at the vast number of people from the UK who said ‘Oh, I’ve been there, you’ll love it’, so clearly travelling to the ends of the earth isn’t quite so difficult after all.

Situated at almost the furthest place on earth from the UK, New Zealand does give the impression of being a fairly inaccessible country, requiring an epic journey of multiple flights and ‘lost’ days through travel. Experience within the travel industry has now equipped me with a more informed view to surmise that, in actual fact, a lot of the arising ‘remoteness’ issues come down to mind-set. It is all too easy to focus on the negatives but what about the positives? Modern-day life is a frenzied blur of ‘busyness’ and connectivity; always being ‘on’ and available. Doesn’t an opportunity for hours of no phone calls, no emails and a chance to catch up on sleep or watch multiple films in a row now sound remarkably appealing? We should really be thinking ourselves lucky with the rise of modern-day travel; Captain Cook’s voyage took many months!

With more global client events taking place each year and with businesses who have offices based all over the world, New Zealand could be an over-looked but perfect location for an incentive event, especially for attendees from Asia and west-coast USA. In some cases, travel distances could be comparable or even better than to European destinations so the 'distance barrier' argument can be hastily kicked to the side.

I spent five weeks travelling solo in a campervan (a highly recommended inclusion for your ‘things to do before you die’ list!) from the top of the North Island to the bottom tip of the South Island and it certainly taught me a fair few things about this beguiling country to alter my misled assumptions…

Life on the road was a rewarding expedition and fundamental part of my trip. The lack of motorways was probably the reason why continuous hours of driving went by so surprisingly quickly; the passage of time from A to B was chock-a-block in jaw-dropping scenes (not an iota of traffic tedium like the M1 or monotony of the M25 in sight)! The road trip combined twisting and turning mountainous and forest roads to steep gradients snaking around the hills and peninsulas. Vast open valleys of rolling agricultural land, vistas of barren landscapes framed with snow-capped mountains and coastlines of turquoise bays and ocean views all appeared one after another like a perfectly edited documentary film . . . the hardest part was tearing my eyes away from the scenery and focusing on the road. As the famous saying goes, 'life is all about the journey'!

An open mind leads to unexpected surprises

It is funny how past perceptions or experiences can train your brain to think certain things without validation or fact. I encountered a few scenarios in New Zealand that proved exercising an open mind has great benefits.

As a solo female traveller, I have found in some countries it has been best not to engage too much with over-friendly locals to avoid being sold a camel(!), pestered for money or put in a potentially awkward or compromising situation. In New Zealand, any anxiety or hesitation I may have previously learnt completely melted away within minutes of my arrival. Kiwis are some of the most genuine and friendly people I have ever met. They are quick to engage in conversation with no hidden agenda; simply interested, willing to chat and offer helpful advice. My travels were peppered by encounters with some lovely characters and individuals who made me feel instantly welcome and I am confident that anyone attending an incentive event would share similar experiences.

Sometimes, even with the best will in the world, pre-organised plans just don’t work out. One activity I was most looking forward to during my trip was to go whale watching at Kaikoura. Unfortunately, my boat was cancelled because an overnight storm resulted in there being no whales in the area where the boat could venture. I was naturally very disappointed and was in two minds about pushing my schedule back to try again the following day. As I strolled around the quaint town, past tourist shops mockingly selling wares branded with whale tails, I mulled over my dilemma and stumbled across a window-front that stopped me in my tracks. The shop specialised in whale watching flights and scenic air tours in 7-seater planes and helicopters. With a new-found spontaneous streak I never knew existed, I booked myself on to a tour and just a few short hours later I was buckling up my seatbelt, raring to take to the skies.

Whilst I didn’t get to see any whales (it just wasn’t meant to be), I gained in more unexpected ways. The thrill of seeing dolphins playing in front of the boat cruising in the bay was completely different to seeing them from a ship. Flying in a small aircraft gave me such a different perspective of the ocean and the panorama of the surrounding landscape. Having observed the countryside from ground level, my new bird’s-eye view allowed my vision to extend far beyond what I’d previously encountered and highlighted the juxtaposition between the land and sea. This experience really helped to highlight that incentive travel is all about doing things you wouldn’t normally do.

As we completed our final descent and the wheels hit the tarmac, I was buzzing and grinning from ear-to-ear, knowing that this unexpected turn of events was the best thing that could have happened. Thank goodness there were no whales!

You are never too old to learn

As adults, it wouldn’t be incongruous to make the statement that we know more than children based on advanced knowledge and life experience. Little did I know that in New Zealand, this thought would be completely flipped on its head and I would be well behind the education of the local primary schools! I really hadn’t expected my journey to be such a learning experience, but I became aware of entirely new animal species that I didn’t know existed, trees and rock formations I’d never set sight on before and a culture that I had no education in.

It’s funny how species that are very normal to locals appear to be exotic and unusual through the eyes of a foreign traveller. Kakariki, Kaka, Takahe, Kea; these are all birds that a year ago meant absolutely nothing to me. I was astonished to discover that the infamous Kiwi bird is bigger than a chicken (I thought they were much smaller) and that a Royal Albatross has a wingspan of 3.3 metres (nearly as long as a small family car)! I was also lucky enough to observe Hector’s dolphins (the smallest species in the world) and Fiordland crested penguins, both of which are only found in New Zealand waters.

I think it would be dishonourable for anyone to visit New Zealand and not try to learn and appreciate a little bit about the history and traditions of Maori culture and I made a conscious effort to expose myself to as much as possible. Whilst Rotorua is famed for being the hub of cultural experiences, my favourite tour was at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in the far north and I would highly recommend it as a must-have inclusion for any incentive group visiting the North Island (it is also close to the stunningly attractive Bay of Islands, which shouldn’t be missed). Not only is the location the most important historic site in the country but the day pass includes an informative guided tour with a local Maori to see the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe, carved meeting house and a chance to watch a Maori warrior performance which includes the infamous Haka. I felt privileged to understand about the indigenous customs; from the importance of hospitality, generosity and respect to the spiritual life-force and responsibility for the natural world. Perhaps our society could learn a thing or two.

What better way to recognise and reward your elite employees than to offer them the golden carrot of a spell-binding trip to such an awe-inspiring destination. Will New Zealand make it on to the next incentive proposal?

Silence – nature’s beauty

In a life of Instagram and Twitter, connection to the wider world and a self-inflicted pressure to try to out-do ‘The Jones’s’ with show-stopping pictures and envy-making experiences, appears to be creating a society that forever looks outside of itself instead of appreciating from within. New Zealand’s beauty is the perfect way to rediscover our natural senses and reconnect with the simple things in life, namely the natural world. Two events during my travels stand-out for being significantly moving, with the first taking place at Lake Tekapo.

Located in the South Island, the quaintly picturesque Church of the Good Shepherd, built just in front of the striking Lake Tekapo, is one of the most photographed locations in New Zealand. It isn’t hard to see why tourists flock to this small town; the exquisite turquoise water has a compelling and seductive charm that has to be seen to be believed. But to me, this picture-postcard set-up was slightly flawed. . . and the issue was lying behind the camera. Yes. The coaches, the campervans, the jostling array of foreigners all flocking to get their picture whether they were in the way of anyone else or not. Unless you are up at the crack of dawn, a constant stream of comings and goings slightly unsettles the peace of this stunning location.

In my unknown wisdom, I joined a 4WD jeep tour which took me off-road on private land across vast, tussock-covered hillsides. We stopped at the equally stunning Lake Pukaki, with its glistening, poetically blue waters (it honestly looks photoshopped!) and back-drop of craggy mountain ranges including Mount Cook in the distance. And the best thing about it? There was me, the lake, the mountains, the miles of undulating grasslands, and not a coach-load of people in sight! Now that is what I class as a pinch-yourself moment and a perfect exclusive activity for any incentive group.

The other significant moment took place during an overnight boat cruise to Doubtful Sound. Due to its isolated location, this area of Fiordland is less frequented than the more well-known Milford Sound and requires a substantial journey in multiple modes of transport to get there. The formidable presence of the jutting cliff faces and range of waterfall formations shows nature in its rawest form. I didn’t truly know the meaning of this until the next morning when we were positioned in a small bay at the end of a branch off the main fiord. The Captain announced that he was going to turn off the engine, generator and all power and he requested that for 10 minutes, everyone had to stay completely still and quiet and not use their cameras or phones. This time was to step away from a camera lens and viewing the world through a screen, it was to simply take it all in with our own eyes.

Wow. Who knew just looking at a landscape could be so profound?

The longer I stood, the more I experienced. What appeared to be silence, evolved into the dripping and splashing of the waterfalls and the singing and chirping of the birds. The initial block colours of blue, green and grey began to pop into a full spectrum of tonal ranges and I could almost imagine artist brushstrokes within the reflections on the water. It was both atmospheric and magical. A moment in time I will never forget. Client briefs always strive for some sort of inclusion with a ‘wow-factor’ which often entails a lot of effort and invariably goes hand-in-hand with a lot of money! This experience taught me that sometimes simple concepts that cost very little can actually be the most rewarding.

A new ‘me’, a new you?

Ultimately, travel changes us every time we embark on a new journey. We become richer in the experiences we uncover, our senses are challenged and expanded and ‘life as we know it’ will forever be slightly altered. For me, travel is all about discovery and a compelling desire to broaden my horizons and see life through new eyes. Creating life-long memories of places, landscapes and people has always helped me to grow and ultimately become who I am as a person today.

From learning about Maori culture to witnessing the sheer beauty and spectrum of natural landscapes, New Zealand, in my eyes, is a definite contender for the ultimate incentive travel destination. I know I am not the first or the last person to be seduced by the charm of these islands in the Pacific, but they offer such a blinding array of options for events programmes that it seems sinful that they aren’t proposed more often.

What better way to recognise and reward your elite employees than to offer them the golden carrot of a spell-binding trip to such an awe-inspiring destination. Will New Zealand make it on to the next incentive proposal?

It seems suitably natural to sign-off this blog with a Maori proverb for you to ponder upon:

Tama tu, tama ora; tama noho, tama mate

He who stands, lives; he who sits, perishes

Read more about T’s sabbatical journey in our other latest blog ‘Event Planner turned Delegate’

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