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How a tourism company scaled up into one of New Zealand’s fastest-growing companies

By Verne Harnish

Haka Tourism Group is an award-winning, New Zealand tourism company focused on showcasing the best of New Zealand. Founded in 2007 by former bank manager and travel enthusiast Ryan Sanders, the company has become one of the country’s fastest-growing scaleups, offering high-end hostel accommodations, hostel tours and educational travel packages.

When Sanders first got in touch with Scaling up Certified Coach Adrian Pickstock at Quad Consulting, the Auckland-based company was bringing in an estimated $5 million in annual revenue. But after appointing Pickstock as coach in 2016, he grew it to more than $30 million in annual revenue.

When Sanders began working with Pickstock, the founder had built Haka Tourism Group into a successful brand, with three separate branches that each had a general manager. He knew that to continue to scale up, he needed guidance.

“We’d always been growth-oriented, but things were getting to a point where it was too big for me to be across everything, build the brand and grow the business,” he says. “In terms of the size of the business, it made sense to put our foot down and really capture the biggest part of the market where we operate. We needed to have everyone in the business aligned with our vision and values, believing in our potential and on the same page.”

An active member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization in New Zealand, Sanders was familiar with Scaling Up and reached out to Pickstock after attending a presentation Pickstock gave. “I really liked that Scaling Up was a proven business growth framework, and so many people globally had used that framework for amazing success,” says Sanders. 

Here’s how he applied it successfully a Haka Tourism Group.

Growing as a leader

With support from Pickstock, Sanders shifted his role away from overseeing the business to a more outward-facing role, as his leadership team took on more responsibilities. 

“Understanding why my role needed to change and why it was best for the business was really, really powerful,” Sanders says. “To lead from the front, spend time looking at global macro trends and shining our light externally, instead of being inward-facing, was absolutely the biggest thing I got from working with Pickstock.”

Achieving company-wide clarity 

Working with Pickstock, the team decided on a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG)—welcoming 1 million guests by 2025—and broke it down into three-year and one-year targets. They have so far welcomed 251,000 guests, a number showcased on the company’s home page.

To make sure the team is “keeping the main thing the main thing,” the leadership team set Quarterly Rocks, or milestones. “The way we structure our quarterly goals was a real game-changer for us,” says Sanders. “We all had complete clarity on what everyone was working on.” By 2019, the company made the Deloitte Fast 50, ranking 21st across all industries and becoming the fastest-growing tourism company in the country.  

Navigating the unexpected

When the Covid pandemic hit, borders closed, and the hospitality industry came to a standstill.  Revenue at the company dropped by 95%. Sanders turned to the principles he’d learned in Scaling Up to navigate this crisis. Although he had to lay off 200 staffers, the company was able to make it through. “I had the confidence to act quickly and ensure I put steps in place to ensure my business survived,” he says.

Raising cash

Since raising capital to fuel the accommodation side of the business, Haka Tourism Group has concentrated on repositioning nine newly acquired assets over the last 18 months, re-branding them to Haka House, a brand that Sanders now leads as CEO. This expanded the portfolio to 14 assets, making it one of the largest in its category in the region. Meanwhile, Haka Tours partnered with Intrepid Travel, one of the world’s largest touring companies, in 2021. Intrepid ultimately bought a majority share in Haka. Both companies focus on immersive and authentic Maori experiences. This has brought access to Intrepid’s systems, process and sales channels.

“Intrepid has essentially supercharged our growth because we’re exposed to all their marketing and sales channels, as well as their B Corp certification, which is an area my team and I are very passionate about,” says Sanders. 

The educational side of the Haka Tourism Group recently became B Corp certified. This arm of the business has just launched a dedicated sports tour brand and is operating in new markets, such as Japan. “Working with Adrian and the Scaling Up framework completely revolutionized my business,” says Sanders. And he’s just getting started. 

Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish is founder of the world-renowned Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and chaired for fifteen years EO’s premiere CEO program, the “Birthing of Giants” and WEO’s “Advanced Business” executive program both held at MIT. Founder and CEO of Gazelles, a global executive education and coaching company with over 150 coaching partners on six continents, Verne has spent the past three decades helping companies scale-up. The “Growth Guy” syndicated columnist, he’s also the Venture columnist for FORTUNE magazine. He’s the author of Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0); Mastering the Rockefeller Habits; and along with the editors of Fortune, authored The Greatest Business Decisions of All Times," for which Jim Collins wrote the foreword. Verne also chairs FORTUNE Magazine’s annual Leadership and Growth Summits and serves on several boards including chairman of The Riordan Clinic and the newly launched Geoversity. He is an investor in many scale-ups. A father of four, he enjoys piano, tennis, and magic as a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.