Tourism is one of the most favorite ways that people choose when it comes to rest and recreation. The development of human society has allowed tourism to go from traditional sightseeing to such a relatively new idea as ecotourism. Marine tourism is thus an integral part of ecotourism, whose focus is three-fold, i. e. it should serve the interests of tourists, businesses that offer such services, and the environment which is explored by ecotourists. Accordingly, marine tourism can be defined as “tourism activities that are set in coastal and marine environments” (Higham, 2008, p. 3).
At the same time, the relevance of the topic of marine tourism is emphasized by its dual nature, i. e. being a recreational activity as a part of ecotourism and being a business activity as marine tourism is not always directly related to having some experiences with the nature (Orams, 1999, p. 8). Drawing from this, the major challenges for marine tourism as a business include issues of economic and environmental sustainability, foreign interests in tourism attractions, and quantifying impacts of tourism activities or marine wildlife (Buckley, 2004, p. 175; Inskipp, 2009, p. 212). The analysis of Explore NZ, a New Zealand-based company is expected to provide insights into those challenges and how the business faces them.
However, before analyzing a specific company operating in the marine tourism business, it is necessary to review the major theories and views by reputable scholars in the area. Thus, Buckley (2004) addresses the topic of challenges faced by ecotourism on the whole and marine tourism in particular by designing the notion of “complex issues of sustainability” (p. 175). These issues are called complex because they encompass the whole set of values and controversial points, including the environmental sustainability, social, and cultural aspects of marine tourism. In particular, Buckley (2004) considers opposite views, according to which marine tourism can either be a damaging environmental activity or can serve as “the platform for public environmental education” (p. 176).
Further on, Hall (2005) and Orchinston (2004) address the legal challenges that marine tourism faces today. The authors argue that in New Zealand, legal protection of the environment is one of the strongest around the globe, which is supported, among other documents, by the 1978 Marine Mammals Protection Act, 1992 Marine Mammals Protection Regulations (Hall, 2005, pp. 238 – 239) and New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2010 (Explore NZ, 2010). Accordingly, the marine tourism business faces the pressure of the legal framework, and managers have to adjust companies to the legislative requirements established by the government (Sharpley, 2002, p. 183).
Finally, the purely business-related challenges for marine tourism operators have also been the subjects of scholarly scrutiny. In particular, Page (2006) examines the idea of developing sustainable competitive advantages for tourism firms of small size in the competition with larger companies (pp. 236 – 237). Page (2006, p. 237) argues that management skills and service quality levels are essential for small-scale firms’ success, while Higham (2008, p. 349), Garrod (2008, p. 52), Cater (2007, p. 2), and Gales (2003, p. 11) stress the need for management and ordinary tourism companies’ employees to have sufficient skills to be able to train clients before taking up marine tourism activities like scuba diving, kayaking, or watching marine animals from special platforms. Thus, one can see that the business of marine tourism faces numerous challenges in its development, and only the companies that manage to cope with all challenges succeed in the industry.
Explore NZ and Sail NZ Operations
The next step in the current report is the consideration of major services and operations offered by Explore NZ and its subdivision Sail NZ. Owned, by native New Zealanders, or Kiwi people, Explore NZ is presented as a “progressive and dynamic company offering an exciting range of tours and cruises in Auckland and the Bay of Islands” (Explore NZ, 2010). Two things by which the website of the company impresses its visitors are the original manner of presentations and the wide variety of suggestions to current or potential Explore NZ customers and partners (Explore NZ, 2010).
In more detail, Explore NZ offers a variety of entertainment options for its customers, including Due Ride off-road to Cape Reinga, Sail Cruises to Waitemata Harbour, also known as the Pride of Auckland, On the Edge Cruises to the Bay of Islands, Dolphin Discoveries and Whale and Dolphin Safari Programs at the Bay of Islands, and of course one of the most exciting experiences for customers, i. e. Sail NZ Auckland – America’s Cup Yachts (Explore NZ, 2010). All these offers are properly organized, and the number of people accepted for each of them is limited, which allows proper attention to be given to all aspects of the marine tourism objects visited.
One of the most interesting points about Explore NZ services is that they have three major directions, i. e. recreational, sports, and educational ones. In more detail, marine tourism services by Explore NZ are first of all means for the company’s clients to relax and explore the beauties of the marine wildlife. However, Explore NZ employs qualified personnel that can train the company’s customers and offers them sporting activities during the tours.
Finally, all the above-listed initiatives by Explore NZ have deep educational nature as they welcome students of all levels and help develop their environmental awareness. The point here is that Explore NZ pays much attention to educational materials being distributed among its clients before any tour takes place, and tourists can thus see in reality what they have read about in Explore NZ’s handouts (Explore NZ, 2010).
Thus, the culture of New Zealand is delivered to Explore NZ’s customers in the framework defined by the government in such milestone documents as the 1978 Marine Mammals Protection Act, 1992 Marine Mammals Protection Regulations, and New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2010. Such a comprehensive approach allows Explore NZ to achieve two goals at once, i. e. satisfy its clients’ needs and develop its business in the direction of expansion and differentiation.
Implications of Theory
So, after both the theoretical material on marine tourism challenges and the operations of Explore NZ are considered, it is possible to assess the company’s operations through the prism of major business challenges observed in its operation area. To make this critical analysis of theoretical implications manifested in Explore NZ operations easier, it is also necessary to briefly summarize the forces that condition the main business challenges for marine tourism operators on the whole and Explore NZ in particular. Thus, four major factors challenge the development of a company in the marine tourism business (Orams, 1999, p. 8; Buckley, 2004, p. 175; Hall, 2005, p. 238; Orchinston, 2004, p. 112; Sharpley, 2002, p. 183), which can be illustrated by the following diagram (Fig. 1):
Thus, the above diagram reveals the mutual nature of effects that challenges have on the marine tourism business and vice versa. In other words, when the listed challenges affect a company, it acts to cope with the challenges, thus modifying their impact as well. So, both the company and the business challenges experience transformations in this mutually involving process.
Drawing from this, the performance of Explore NZ can also be viewed in the plane of this interaction. First of all, environmental sustainability challenges affect the company’s development and Explore NZ tries to cope with those challenges by offering mostly environmentally-friendly services like sailing cruises or platform observations of whales and dolphins, although improvements are needed in this area of performance (Explore NZ, 2010). Such activities do not affect the wildlife directly but also allows the company to cope with its second challenge, i. e. socio-cultural sustainability. As argued by Buckley (2004), this challenge emerges in educational and cultural planes and might damage a company’s image if its activities contradict social standards and cultural norms (p. 195).
In this respect, Explore NZ also works on improving its educational potential, while the cultural and social standards of its performance are reported to be perfectly fitting for the New Zealand community (Explore NZ, 2010). Explore NZ pays much attention to the educational needs of its clients and tries to become the “platform” for environmental awareness development as argued by Buckley (2004, p. 175). At the same time, the company meets the legal challenges by fully conforming to the demands of the 1978 Marine Mammals Protection Act, 1992 Marine Mammals Protection Regulations, and New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2010 (Explore NZ, 2010).
Finally, in the areas of skills and training, Explore NZ permanently updates the qualifications of its employees and management so that they could provide services of the highest quality to the company’s clients. At the same time, improvements in approaches to staff and management training and skills development are still required (Explore NZ, 2010).
Best Practices and Necessary Improvements
Drawing from the above analysis of theoretical implications for Explore NZ operations and practices, it is now possible to identify the activities of this company that conform to the best industry standards, as well as those points that require improvements. The former include the wide variety of services offered, the environmentally-friendly nature of those services, conformity to all legal requirements of New Zealand, and the work on developing skills of the company’s staff.
The points that require improvement in Explore NZ’s performance include, however, the services that either directly or indirectly cause damage to the environment, like for instance Dune Rider off-road program, as well as the level of professional qualifications of Explore NZ’s staff and management that manifests its need of improvement in some cases (Explore NZ, 2010). The brief comparative table for both categories of practices is presented in Figure 2:
Fig. 2 Explore NZ best-example practices and points requiring improvements.
|Proper practices||Improvement needed|
|1. Environmentally friendly services||1. Services that affect, or can affect, the environment in a negative way|
|2. Socio-cultural sustainability|
|3. Conformity to legal requirements||2. Further straining and improvement of staff and management skills|
|4. Updating staff skills and qualifications|
Thus, one of the best services offered by Sail NZ, a member company of Explore NZ group is a sail on America’s Cup Yachts, the services that any person can enjoy after applying and paying a reasonable fee. The advantages of the service include the simplicity and excitement it brings to participants, no damage to the environment, and no experience required before the very 1, 5 hour trip in the Auckland Waitemata Harbour (Explore NZ, 2010). As for the practices that require improvements, the following section provides recommendations for Explore NZ, together with the implications of the recommended steps for the company, its public image, and overall performance efficiency.
Specific Recommendations for Explore NZ and Sail NZ
Thus, the points that require interventions in Explore NZ’s performance include the development of environmental sustainability and the improvement of skills and professional qualifications of the company’s staff and management. Accordingly, the recommendations to Explore NZ are based on scholarly views and expected outcomes of those recommendations for the company.
So, according to Page (2006, p. 390) and Higham (2008, p. 252), the issues of sustainability and professional training are integrally connected. The point here is that sustainability for a tourism company is a mix of economic and environmental sustainability. Traditionally, having one means not having another, but the task for professionally qualified management is to combine both and achieve total sustainability by applying his/her professional skills (Page, 2006, p. 391). Drawing from this, working on its environmental sustainability, Explore NZ is recommended to start with staff and management training. Next, the newly acquired management skills can be then used to implement the following set of steps for environmental sustainability improvement:
- Introduce environmentally-friendly technologies for services with potential for environmental damage;
- Replace potentially harmful services with newly developed ones that do not pollute the environment;
- Diversify the services further, so that elimination of one (or several) activities should not reduce the company’s economic sustainability;
The properly trained management should be able to introduce the above-listed innovations and facilitate the development of environmental sustainability without any substantial damage to the economic and financial positions of Explore NZ.
In more detail, the implications of the recommended steps for Explore NZ will be observed in three major dimensions, i. e. cost and benefit relation, practicality, and public image of the company (Gales, 2003, p. 93; Sharpley, 2002, p. 172). Thus, staff and management training, as well as introducing all the recommended steps in Explore NZ will all involve considerable costs (the exact sums might change depending on the timeframe the company chooses for improvements and their scope).
At the same time, the proper conduct of all the recommended steps is expected to bring the benefit that would outweigh the expenses in the form of new customers attracted by environmentally-friendly initiatives of the company and increased profit from the diversified services of Explore NZ. As for practicality, the company will be able to use the staff and management skills for its future initiatives, thus making a one-time investment into multiple returns. However, the expected outcomes will be achieved only if the recommended steps are implemented properly by Explore NZ.
Needless to say, it is essential to have criteria for measuring the success of any innovative practices adopted by a business company, especially in the marine tourism industry (Orams, 1999, p. 87; Higham, 2008, p. 289). Accordingly, the success measurement criteria for Explore NZ’s recommended steps should look as follows:
Fig.3 Effectiveness Assessment.
|Implementation of recommended steps||6 months||All steps implemented properly and improvements are observed|
|Staff and management training||3 months||Survey results reporting improvements in staff and management skills; results of steps’ implementation|
|Environmental sustainability improvement||3 months||Decrease of pollutants’ emissions; increase of customer base|
|Developing sustainable company||6 months||Environmental sustainability combined with profit increase|
Thus, the above success criteria will allow Explore NZ to monitor the implementation of the recommended steps for solving its environmental sustainability and staff and management training problems. Needless to say, these success criteria are approximate and can be modified and refined during the process of steps’ implementation.
Thus, the whole above presented discussion allows concluding that the business of marine tourism, as a part of a wider area of ecotourism, often faces considerable challenges in its development. The review of relevant literature allows arguing about at least four major groups of challenges that impact marine tourism business, i. e. environmental sustainability, socio-cultural sustainability, legal factors, and issues associated with staff and management skills and training. Explore NZ also faces these challenges, and the areas of environmental sustainability and employee training are now in need of improvements in this company. The current paper discusses the operations of Explore NZ and recommends that the company should integrate staff and management training with the work on environmental improvements to achieve the desired total sustainability goals.
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