In Māori culture, the haka is a traditional dance of welcome that is performed to honour guests.
The name, says Haka Tourism Group's founder, Ryan Sanders, is unique to New Zealand and also befits Haka Tours, a proudly New Zealand-owned and -operated company that runs guided adventure tours for 25 to 45+ years international travellers.
This month, Haka has extra reason to dance with the opening of two new hotels in Auckland that mark an exciting new chapter in the company’s remarkable hospitality history.
Located on K’ Road (the locals’ abbreviation for Karangahape Road) in one of Auckland’s hippest inner-city neighbourhoods, the 4-star, 60-suites Haka Hotel K’ Road Apartments opened its doors to guests on 1 December. Decorated in a smart contemporary style that reflects the company's personality, the apartments range from studio suites to two-bedroom suites, all with fully equipped kitchenettes and a variety of forward-focussed technology including free unlimited Wi-Fi as standard, HD TVs, collaborations with nearby eateries and gyms and online grocery deliveries.
Not to be outdone, another 62-suite Haka Hotel is scheduled to open in the nearby suburb of Newmarket later this month. Plans for further locations, which will eventually comprise a nationwide footprint of 10 hotels under the company’s Haka Black brand, are underway.
“The nicest you’ll stay in”
Ryan Sanders says growing market demand from independent travellers for greater levels of comfort, style and convenience has prompted Haka’s expansion into three-plus and four-star hotels. The company was also encouraged by the success of its Haka Lodges, the first of which was established in 2011 to match the high standards of Haka tours.
“Comfort when you’re touring is important,“ Sanders says, “and where you rest your head each night is even more important.” The company searches out the best available accommodation in every locality it visits and “when you stay in a Haka Lodge hostel, I believe it’s the nicest backpackers you’ll stay in.”
Five lodges in the Bay of Islands, Auckland, Taupo, Christchurch and Queenstown now contribute around 30 per cent of the company’s revenue and the initiative has also paid off in another way: in 2015, Haka Lodges was named the country’s top hostel brand at Australasia’s Golden Backpack Awards. A sixth lodge is currently being built in Wellington and as with the hotels, a network of 10 or 11 is planned.
A meteoric rise
Haka’s new hotel openings come at the end of a stellar year for the company with the win of no less than four major honours at the 2017 New Zealand Tourism Awards, including the JLT & AIG Business Excellence Award, the Epay New Zealand Tourism Marketing Award and the Air New Zealand Supreme Tourism Award. (The company is no stranger to wins, having carried off two National Tourism Awards and an Auckland Business Marketing Award in 2015.)
The latest awards were, in part, an acknowledgement of one of the most remarkable recent stories in New Zealand tourism, starting with Haka’s humble beginnings in 2007 when Sanders, who trained as an industrial psychologist, quit his HR job and started Haka Tours with NZ$40,000 in life savings, one employee and one small bus.
A decade later, with 2017 revenues on track to exceed NZ$17 million, Haka Tourism Group is now an internationally recognised force in tourism with nine business units operating small-group guided adventures, snow and mountain bike trips, five upmarket hostels and specialist educational tours to New Zealand and 10 other countries. In the last three years the company has grown at an average of 60 per cent year on year and since 2010 it has been independently ranked as the number one tour company in New Zealand. In 2013, 2014 and 2015, Haka was named as the top commercial tourism business across all categories.
Size does matter
Despite the fact that the energetic 40-year-old now runs a company with 100-plus employees, he says he still thinks ”small”.
"Size does matter," he quips, "which is why Haka keeps our tours to an average of 14 people, max 16. A small group makes for a richer and more personalised experience: the journey feels more like a road trip with your mates rather than a bus ride with 50 strangers."
The company's business model also uniquely blurs the difference between fixed tours and independent travel. Sanders says Haka is the only tour operator in New Zealand that lets customers pre-book and pay for a range of activities and upgrade options to customise their tour or make it a fully private guided trip.
Haka tours are also fully immersive, with plenty of opportunities to connect with local people and explore “off the beaten track” places where larger tours seldom go. Māori cultural values and principles including Kaitiatikanga (stewardship of the environment and Whanaungatanga (connectedness through friendship) feature as core elements in all Haka’s business practices, brands and vision for the future. (When it applied to use the name Haka Tours, the company consulted fully with Māori authorities to ensure it had the rights to do so.)
The fourth award Sanders received at the 2017 New Zealand Tourism Awards was an individual one. The Auckland Airport Tourism Industry Champion Award recognised the innovations he has made in tourism products and infrastructure and his willing involvement in leadership and governance roles in the wider industry.
Sanders says his enthusiasm for his company and his love for New Zealand are intertwined.
"I started out designing products for people like myself, with the vision of creating incredibly awesome small-group adventure tours that immerse travellers in the real New Zealand,” he says. This focus, along with the belief that adventure touring in New Zealand can be done differently, is inculcated in all of Haka’s carefully selected employees who combine the company’s high professional standards with down-to-earth Kiwi friendliness. “We call our approach laid-back excellence, or bro-fessionalism,” Sanders says.
If Haka’s expansion plans for the next decade are any guide, quite a few more Haka team members are likely to be needed. A keen supporter of the New Zealand government’s National Tourism Strategy, Sanders is eyeing new opportunities in regional areas, looking to add more niche lifestyle sports-oriented tours, and planning cultural projects that build on Haka’s strong connection with Māori culture.
At home and offshore, the company’s educational tours brand, which encompasses stays at NASA space camps in the USA and wildlife-watching in Borneo, is growing fast. The South Pacific Islands also beckon and Haka has begun operating tours in Tonga and the Cook Islands on behalf of a European company.
“It’s a long-term game in terms of building a brand around New Zealand as a travel destination,” Sanders says, “but I'm excited about its future.” The same could be said about Haka Tourism Group – and very definitely that everything it does will be unique and different.