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Online presence vital for innovative business

Establishing a sea kayaking business in a town synonymous with tourist activities meant having an online presence was crucial for Seal Kayak Kaikoura.

Six years ago, former surf champion and instructor Levi O’Connor established the first pedal kayaking business New Zealand.

Ocean-loving Levi knew he was meant to be on the water and identified a gap in the market for his unique pedal kayaks which can be operated by either pedaling or paddling. This means those customers with shoulder, back or arm issues can still kayak using a “hands-free option”.

“I wanted to make water sport and recreation accessible to a wider range of people with something a bit easier than surf instructing and these kayaks have been amazing.”

“We’re the only business in New Zealand that use these Hobie Mirage Drive Pedal kayaks and they’re really cool, they’re easy to use; I just love being on the ocean so it’s pretty cool having the office on the water.”

Levi offers three daily tours, taking groups of up to fourteen people at a time to explore the Kaikoura coast and get up close to fur seals and other wildlife by water.

“We do three trips a day, one morning, one afternoon and one sunset tour, which is the most popular,” Levi says.

Most of Sea Kayak Kaikoura’s clients are from overseas so having online booking was a must for Levi from day one. He markets his business on a range of different tourism websites, including bookme.co.nz, newzealand.com and kaikoura.co.nz.

The tours are also visible on TripAdvisor, Facebook and Instagram, which Levi says gives him good visibility for those looking to visit the region from other areas of New Zealand and the world.

“Booking is done online, or through the i-SITE and different tourism websites.

“A lot of people find us online and get to Kaikoura and say, ‘I remember seeing that online’.”

The value of having a strong online presence has been vital for the business with Seal Kayak Kaikoura receiving a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor in 2017, where the business is rated 5/5 from over 240 reviews. It’s also rated #3 out of 20 Boat Tours & Water Sport activities in the Kaikoura area on the travel website.

Online marketing plays an important role in Levi’s marketing strategy with his business clocking up over 3200 followers on Facebook, as well as rating of 5/5 on the social media network.

Potential customers seek out ratings and reviews when making their bookings, particularly when booking from overseas.

“The internet is a big thing these days … it has definitely grown.”

Being able to access a reliable internet connection is crucial in terms of simplifying the booking and payment process for services like Levi’s tours.

“A lot of people just pay online, most of our bookings are through agencies so [customers] pay them, they take their commission and we get paid monthly,” Levi says.

Levin describes businesses with a strong online presence as having a positive flow-on effect for the wider community as visitors gain a broader idea of what is on offer in the region.

“It draws attention to Kaikoura and gives people more options for things to do and shows that there are plenty of activities.”

Levi has employed a second guide to help with the workload, which is increasing, particularly over the peak summer season.

He says it’s essential for businesses to take advantage of online tools, particularly tourism operations who are focused on attracting domestic and international tourists.

“It definitely makes operating a business easier and you have more time and energy to concentrate on what you do best.”


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