The guided tour industry became mainstream in the late 1960s and 70s with the advent of cheap air travel, spurred on the adoption of the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet. New Zealand, as a destination isolated by sea from all of its main markets, was particularly affected by this change.
The historical traveler was much more focused on “seeing” rather than “doing or learning”. This in part reflects the relative newness and exotic nature of the world, and relative lack of media coverage of its regions. Positioned in the mainstream, group tourism had a strong emphasis on cost, and the best way to see an exotic location at a reasonable price was to participate in a large guided group travelling on a very pre-determined route utilizing large accommodations and activity providers.
This situation has obviously evolved with the explosion of media throughout our lives. Now, it is possible very quickly to obtain information on almost any place, subject or person you may care to investigate. The modern traveler has moved well beyond a passive “show and tell” mentality, and is now looking for a New Zealand travel experience that explores and interacts with a higher level of cultural and ecological aspects of their destination. This is in stark contrast to the demands of bygone travel experiences, which were often passive and non-involving.
There are two elements critical to the provision of an active and interactive travel experience: group size and local knowledge.
In New Zealand, apart from a few defined city areas, the tourism infrastructure does not allow for large groups. This is particularly apparent in the provision of accommodation, which is very limited, but is also reflected in many of the nature experiences and adventure activities available. Group size determines where you can visit, and what you can do when you are there. Larger travel groups benefit from economies of scale in terms of their over-all pricing, but the quality of their experience cannot be compared to that enjoyed by a smaller tour group. Local knowledge is also critical in the provision of a truly interactive experience.
Local guides add a level of subtlety and understanding to travel not available through guidebooks or self learning. A guided tour can therefore offer a unique insight into many aspects of the travel destination that would not be available to the casual traveler.
In summary, the modern traveler to New Zealand presents new and unique demands to the travel industry. Their desire for quality, depth of knowledge, and participation in their travel experience can be met by a guided travel format that utilizes a combination of quality, knowledgeable guides, and a small tour size that preserves the values of uniqueness and subtlety when travelling.