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'ADAPTATION: Lessons from a crisis

April 04, 20233 min read

During those first shocks of Covid, we adapted. We evolved. We looked for opportunities that saw us get ahead in our markets. We doubled down on our communications and built our networks.

Between a break without summer, European uncertainty, and a global pandemic, the last three years have been the most challenging for leaders in recent memory. But rather than eroding our confidence, we wanted to turn our attention to some of the adaptations andsuccesses from the Covid era – and inspire ongoing transformations in Aotearoa New Zealand business.

Travel and tourism were hit especially hard with the closure of borders. As Michelle Malcolm of Quay Travel and Rachel Williams of Viva Expeditions describe it, the journey through the Covid period went from calm to chaos. Michelle had just returned from an amazing trip to Patagonia in February, business was great, and then within weeks the borders were closed and the industry was thrown into turmoil. “It was like running into a brick wall at 100 miles an hour,” she says.

Michelle explains that the first task at the outbreak of Covid was to repatriate over 500 clients who were travelling in Latin America or on cruises to the Antarctic – no mean feat when borders are closed. It took considerable efforts to repatriate Kiwis and Aussies with strict quarantine rules and restrictions in place, but by utilising their network of contacts throughout Peru, their relationships with airlines, and their reservations and logistical expertise, they got Kiwis home.

When it came to pivoting and navigating their businesses during the Covid lockdowns, it was adaptability and resilience that saw them win out. For Rachel, Viva had been slowly built over 11 years; to make staff cuts and other drastic cost-cutting measures was “soul-destroying.”


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With borders closed, she turned her attention to the domestic market in a bid to generate cash flow and ensure the survival of the business.

“We created Viva Aotearoa, focusing on unique luxury experiences in New Zealand. We created ‘Southern Lights by Flight’, a 10 hour journey on an Air New Zealand Dreamliner to witness the incredible Southern Lights. By reaching out to astronomers, photographers and NASA educators, I put together a team of experts with the knowledge to ensure the flights were a success.”

The first flight was launched via a press release in October 2020, and the first plane sold out in a matter of days. Then second and third planes were secured, and they too were full within a couple of weeks. The project became a massive success – even if eight more full flights were cancelled when the airline recalled the planes for other uses.

Covid reminded business owners to be creative and think outside the box to survive and thrive, even in tough conditions – something that we still need to reflect on today. While business today is different, with more challenges, the need to be agile and to push ahead into new markets, find new opportunities, and create lasting business success hasn’t changed.

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