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2016 New Zealand Innovation Awards Innovation in Marketing & Communications: Haka Tours

Fact: tourism is now New Zealand’s most lucrative industry.

Fact: competition among companies for tourist money is fierce.

Another fact: Auckland-based Haka Tours is one of the most innovative players in the market.

Offering adventure, snow, and mountain biking tours – among a plethora of other options – the company sounds a lot like other tour operators, at least on the surface. But what sets it apart is its unique “buildable” tours where, somewhat similar to Lego kits in the 1990s that would carry detailed step-by-step instructions for the main model and then inspiration for alternative models a person could build with the same kit, clients can create their own entirely unique, once-in-a-lifetime holiday experience.

The company was created in 2006 by Ryan Sanders, who was eager to “escape the dull working life of corporate banking.” Also a professional rugby player overseas, a snapped Achilles tendon brought an end to his sporting career. To get the adrenaline flowing again, he set up an adventure tourism company featuring a taiaha-wielding anthropomorphic kiwi as its logo.

With Haka Tours’ model, a customer picks a base tour – such as a tour of the North Island or a trek through Fiordland – and can then tack on several different add-ons, such as a swim with dolphins or whale watching (or somewhat more off-the-beaten-track activities like zorbing). A “seat” is then secured for a $99 deposit, with the rest of the balance to be paid 30 days before the tour – whenever that may be. With tours limited to a maximum of 16 people, all facets – accommodation, transportation, meals, et cetera – are taken care of, and the company supplies guides who know Aotearoa as well (if not better than) the back of their hands.

Although it’s an established brand, especially in the UK and Australia, amid an ever-expanding tourism market, a strong social media presence is a key component of how Haka Tours promotes itself. Smart online promotions have been a key component of the company’s business strategy from the very beginning – for example, when Haka Tours first launched in the UK, it ran a YouTube-based search for “Britain’s craziest student,” an attempt to feed off the popularity of the “Jackass” franchise. The promotion turned out to be a success, with about 50 percent of the British customers who booked during its first six months doing so because of the campaign.

Especially active on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, an important element of Haka Tours’ social media and marketing strategy is user-generated content. Primarily coming in the form of pictures people upload of things they’ve done on their trips, it helps sell the “coolness” of the brand in a very relatable way. After all, we often decide to do things because our friends and family have done it. Basic psychology/peer pressure.

But is the approach working? Aside from the Innovation Awards, the company has also won the 2015 TNT Golden Backpacker Awards for Best Accommodation, were a 2015 Westpac Business Growth Grant Winner, captured the Business Excellence and Emerging Leader prize at the 2015 Tourism Industry Awards, were the Rankers Supreme Award winners in 2015, and won the Excellence in Marketing category at the 2015 Auckland Business Awards. Oh, and they also have about 10,000 Instagram followers, and 35,000 Facebook fans.

So the answer is yes.


It was really good to see your inspirational story and to hear about your use of social media to effectively make people fall in love with your brand. Awesome entry and terrific business growth.

This story first ran in Idealog 63.
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