During the recent Tourism Australia Summit at the Beverly Hills Hotel, I was lucky enough to sit next to Jane Turner, owner and founder, Active Downunder, destination specialists for New Zealand and Australia. It’s what Turner would call a “Happy Accident.” We were in a scheduled environment – that of a conference – but we had the freedom to choose where and with whom we sat.
It’s a similar equation that Turner builds into itineraries for her clients: a schedule that allows for breathing room to encourage delightful encounters and treasured experiences.
It’s no surprise that I was drawn to her. After the abundance of auburn hair and the expressive eyes, the first thing you notice about Turner is her curiosity. She asks questions, she’s not passive, and it’s obvious that there’s a dynamic intellect at work. Turner is personable – which she might try to pass off as the New Zealand way. She’s originally from Wellington, New Zealand, and is part Maori, but she’s assimilated into the U.S. She understands Americans, has an affinity for them, and studies what appeals to them. For the past 12 years she has figured out how to sell them on New Zealand with her destination specialist company Active Downunder.
Active Downunder curates bespoke itineraries for individual travelers in New Zealand. Due to demand her company is offering Australia itineraries, too. She’s experiencing unprecedented growth: on track for growth at 33 percent for the 2013-2014 fiscal year ending in June. She’s hired Aussie Specialist Ezra Whipple to manage the growth and she’s looking forward to what the future will bring.
Her presence at the Tourism Australia Summit was part of her plan for expansion. The Summit’s focus on innovation in destination marketing was not foreign to Turner. Active Downunder has won accolades ranging from Condé Nast and Frommer’s, to the New Zealand Travel and Tourism Awards and the American Chamber of Commerce-UPS Success and Innovation Awards.
The itineraries curated for Active Downunder clients are highly individualized with a unique element for luxury travel: high-end B&B accommodation or small boutique hotels. Usually there aren’t more than four rooms on offer per property. Sometimes, only two rooms. Due to the limited number of rooms, larger tour packagers and travel companies often overlook these welcoming places run by locals.
“New Zealand is not just the scenery. It’s friendly people,” said Turner.
She describes the owners of the B&Bs and lodges who host her clients: well traveled New Zealanders who want to keep up their connections with what’s going on in the rest of world. A lot of the owners love food and wine and are quite knowledgeable about gourmet cuisine.
“It’s a dinner party environment,” said Turner. “That’s the perfect combination. It’s nice to sit down, taste local food, ask all those questions that you’re not going to get the answers to if you stay at a hotel.”
One thing Turner has noted about Americans: they are curious. “They want to ask questions about politics, Maori culture, education. Staying in a small intimate or hosted accommodation gives them that opportunity,” said Turner.
New Zealand is the size of California. Often, clients think they can do the entire country in two weeks. Turner tries to correct that misconception. “You can’t,” said Turner. “If you really want to immerse yourself and enjoy yourself.”
This is how Active Downunder operates. Breathing room is built into the itineraries to allow for “Happy Accidents.” It’s about back roads, small artisan stands and galleries, that great photo opp, and the opportunity to discover things along the way that they might not have seen if they hadn’t taken the time.
A great outdoor enthusiast and a triathlete, Turner has hiked the ‘great walks’ in New Zealand. “I’ve backpacked all of them,” said Turner. ‘Many of our clients like to walk, whether it be for a few hours, a day or several days. ‘I can speak first-hand about these walks, the differences terrain, level of difficulty, time required etc’. Turner’s level of knowledge is a unique selling point and a benefit to her clients.
I count myself lucky having met Turner and can now be counted as a fan of fortuitous, happy accidents curated by Active Downunder.