Kiwi Experience is leading the way in responsible tourism

27 October 2015

Kiwi Experience, owned by Tourism Holdings Limited, is New Zealand’s original bus adventure company – 26 years young and serving as tour guides for thousands of adventure-seeking young people every year.

As the originator of bus adventure in New Zealand, the brand is now leading in the pursuit of responsible tourism by committing to a number of sustainability initiatives.

Tourism Holdings Limited’s sustainability efforts are led by Strategic Initiatives Leader Saskia Verraes, a social intrapreneur who has sought and obtained buy in from key stakeholders.

Saskia facilitated a top down approach – from board to CEO through to front line staff and says “the intention is to engrain a sustainable way of operating in all parts of the business rather than having a sustainability division as such.  Through sheer passion, Kiwi Experience is leading our sustainability effort.  This will provide business practices and valuable learnings for other parts of the business to reference”.   

Kiwi Experience joined the Adding Sustainable Value programme run by Otago Polytechnic and the Natural Step.  The programme helped to develop a strong sustainability framework through a series of workshops. 

Saskia says that team members were immediately enthusiastic and saw  becoming more sustainable as a relatively simple proposition.  

“We needed to take the team from thinking about sustainability as tree planting through to understanding it was the system we operate in – communities, customers, crew, shareholders and of course the environment”, says Saskia.   

Saskia says that buy-in began with Kiwi Experience Operations Director Jolanda Cave, as she would be leading from the front.  

“During the workshops Jolanda’s mind set shift has seen her move from slightly cynical to becoming one of Tourism Holdings Limited’s biggest advocates for sustainability – implementing a ‘Green Not Mean’ philosophy within her team,” says Saskia.

“With her own passion ignited, she now inspires others. This includes the driver guides who are the ones there on the frontline with tourists and clocking up the miles on the infamous green buses.”

All Kiwi Experience bus drivers now go through Safed to ensure driving efficiency. Jolanda says “this is something that drivers have really bought into, in part because it appeals to their competitive streaks!”

Systems installed on the buses beep when the driver is not demonstrating fuel efficient practices – almost gamifying the exercise. “Drivers are very much avoiding that beep and enjoying the challenge,”says Jolanda.   

With Kiwi Experience buses visiting many small communities around the country the buses’ arrival can suddenly greatly inflate a population, and impact considerably on the community. 

Jolanda says Kiwi Experience has a great relationship with those communities and taking the time to assess Kiwi Experience’s impact has been beneficial. “We identified three immediate areas we could address, that is our passengers’ use of coffee cups, plastic bags and water bottles! Once you see something, you can’t un-see it.  It was apparent there was plenty of room for improved recycling efforts with these particular items.”

Initiatives now in place to limit use amongst travellers include offering reusable coffee cups, biodegradable rubbish bags and encouraging the use of reusable drink bottles.

“Educating our passengers is key, along with a broader and very appropriate clean, green NZ message,” says Jolanda. “Thanks to our internal workshops drivers can now convey the message, they walk the talk and it’s something they’re passionate about.”

The development of a community project roster means Kiwi Experience passengers take part in many projects around New Zealand thereby contributing positively to the communities the buses visit. 

Plans are also underway for Kiwi Experience buses to become paperless environments by replacing paper booking forms and a passenger magazine with innovative apps. This is a key point of transformation for the Kiwi Experience brand.

Saskia says, “most importantly – we recognise that this is a long term commitment, we still have a long way to go, but are proud of the steps we have taken towards a green environment with Kiwi Experience leading the charge.”