Young Canterbury entrepreneur wins tourism award

His refusal to be beaten by the Christchurch earthquakes and subsequent visitor downturn has contributed to a Canterbury tourism operator being awarded the 2012 PATA Young Tourism Entrepreneur Award.

Mark Gilbert, Managing Director and co-owner of Hassle-free Tours, was also recognised for his commitment to building a world-class tourism business and his environmental efforts. His win was announced by Prime Minister and Tourism Minister John Key at the 2012 TIA Summit in Wellington today.

PATA NZ Chairman Neil Plimmer, who presented the award, said Mr Gilbert was a worthy winner among an outstanding field of candidates.

"He epitomises the kind of leadership, entrepreneurial flair, and business capability needed to take the tourism industry forward," Mr Plimmer said.

Mr Gilbert says the inspiration for starting Hassle-free Tours came after his own overseas travels, when he realised that the most spectacular scenery he had seen was back home in New Zealand, in the Canterbury high country in particular.

With his wife, Nikki, he established the business in 2003 at the age of 24. The business offers tours of the Canterbury high country in purpose-built vehicles. In 2007, Hassle-free Tours was the first tour company in New Zealand to convert its entire fleet to biodiesel.

Immediately after the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake, the company’s visitor numbers plummeted by 80%. Mr Gilbert took quick action to continue operating and retain staff. He introduced New Zealand’s only open top double-decker bus tour, offering tours of Christchurch and Akaroa, as well as charter tours. He developed new tours from Akaroa for the cruise market and targeted the domestic market with special offers and promotions.

In its nine years of operation, Hassle-free Tours has grown from just Mr and Mrs Gilbert to employing up to 12 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in the summer season. The fleet has grown from one to nine vehicles which are projected to carry 17,500 passengers this year.

As the winner of the 2012 PATA Young Tourism Entrepreneur Award, Mr Gilbert receives a cash prize of $2500 and a scholarship to either the ATTTO National Certificate in Tourism Aotearoa or the ATTTO National Certificate in Business, First Line Management.

About the Tourism Industry Awards

The 2012 PATA Young Tourism Entrepreneur Award is part of the Tourism Industry Awards managed by the Tourism Industry Association New Zealand (TIA).