Australia’s $122 billion tourism industry has faced unprecedented challenges in the last 18 months. Soon after bushfires swept across the country, the government responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by shutting down international and domestic travel. Now however, the industry is waking up to the opportunity for domestic tourism as Australians have nowhere to go except exploring their own backyard.
Pip Jewson is an adventure enthusiast. He has travelled the length and breadth of the country, from a 4X4 trip up Cape York to the tip of Australia, driving along the beaches of Tasmania, discovering Broome and its hinterland and a family adventure in a caravan through the red centre to Uluru with his family off-road caravan and a 4X4 buggy. With the pandemic interrupting the events industry, Pip pivoted his event-buggy company, 1800BUGGIES, to offering Australians access to some of our national parks through the subsidiary he launched, OzBuggy Tours. The new business runs safe, beginner-friendly tours to advanced off-road driving experiences.
“We saw a niche in the market where no other company offered a quality side-by-side, 4×4 utility vehicle,” Pip explains. Taking advantage of the fact that the only vehicle available for hire in the market place were golf carts – unsuitable for a lot of terrain because they are electric and only have a short battery life – Pip introduced his high-power buggies which can run around the clock into the tourism sphere.
“If you can find a niche and believe in yourself and the product, you will succeed.”
“Typically, we would have all of the buggies hired out to festivals and major events across Australia, which were put on hold due to the pandemic,” he says. “We had a warehouse full of buggies all over the nation with no scope for business. It was a do-or-die situation for us, so we came up with an idea to get our buggies moving again with off-road adventure travel start-up OzBuggy Tours.”
Ironically 4×4 buggy tours had been a dream of Pip’s for many years after working in the adventure tourism industry in Whistler, Canada, and travelling the world.
“I just never had the time to focus on making my dream come true – COVID brought that opportunity to me.”
Although it was a challenge to learn a new way of doing business while still managing an existing business through a pandemic, the unique nature of the offering has led to a big demand from domestic tourists. Since the launch, the business has seen growth triple in terms of month-on-month business.
“The opportunity with international borders closed at the moment means people who typically have their annual holiday planned to Thailand or Bali are now spending dollars exploring domestically, and are learning to value the amazing experiences we have here in Australia,” Pip says.
That level of growth is likely to be just the beginning, as Pip plans to expand operations into every state in Australia. As OzBuggy is a subsidiary company of 1800BUGGIES, he already has buggies situated in every capital city. OzBuggy is already up and running in two locations in Queensland, with another to launch later this year in Melbourne. And when international borders do eventually reopen, the company plans to partner with travel agents across Australia to attract overseas tourists, offering corporate retreats and expanding into other cities in Australia.
Having been in business for 20 years, Pip has been able to ride the challenges and see opportunity where some may only see roadblocks.
“I believe the number one lesson I have learnt since I first started out is that taking ‘calculated’ risks in a situation such as a pandemic is something you just need to do,” Pip says. “As we were fighting to save 1800BUGGIES and pivoting within the hire industry, we decided to invest in OzBuggy, when no one else I knew was spending money and precious cash flow to invest at a time where the economy was falling apart around us.
“The choice for us was to start selling our assets or come up with an alternative – and that led to the launch of OzBuggy Tours.”
Pip stresses that thorough research into the product or service you offer is critical to your survival. “You need to know your market research and if the product or service is available anywhere else,” he explains. “If you can find a niche and believe in yourself and the product, you will succeed. The biggest risk of all is to believe in yourself, your dreams and the team around you, no matter what anyone else says or tells you otherwise. If you believe in that, then the risk is worth it!”
This article first appeared in issue 33 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine