• Beachcomber Cruises

Business Spotlight – Jess Jones, General Manager of Beachcomber Cruises

We had the privilege to someone that we spoke to 12 months ago and I’m really excited to have the opportunity to chat to them again. This time, digging a little bit deeper on how things have gone for them in that last 12 months. We are please to be interviewing Jess Jones from Beachcomber. Jess, has worked in the family’s business for almost eight years, and pre Covid become the GM. Soon after becoming GM COVID hit.

Business Spotlight

Tracey 

A big welcome to Jess Jones, GM of Beachcomber.

 

Jess 

Thank you for having me along again.

 

Tracey 

It’s been an absolute pleasure having you along, Jess we’ve known each other for a while and you know, we’ve had lots of conversations about this this turbulent last year. Although, I don’t want to start with that just yet. I don’t feel that a lot of people actually know who you are. So, do you want to just kind of talk a little bit about your role in your business first?

 

Jess 

Sure, So. My world my business starts with being  a mom of two. A 8-year-old and a 10 year old. We live in Picton. We moved here 10 years ago. My parents owned the company Beachcomber Cruises. So family owned and operated company. They brought it back in 2006, and I joined in October 2011. I  started in reservations, then moved into marketing. Then took over as General Manager.

 

Tracey 

So tell us a little bit about Beachcomber itself and the business and what you guys do?

 

Jess 

Beachcomber Cruises, we are cruising Specialists of the Queen Charlotte Sound and we also service the Queen Charlotte track. A bit of history on that, we actually bought Beachcomber which had three boats when we initially bought. We also brought the smaller water taxis out West Bay called buzzy boats. And we moved those to Picton Water taxis so we run them as Picton Water Taxi’s.

Jess 

We merged those two companies and then made that Picton water taxis. So there’s our private side of the fleet. So they do a lot of contract work and then Beachcomber cruises is the scheduled side. So within the boating side, we do have two sort of sectors.

 

Tracey 

When we think about your business your main market what Where has your main market come from for Beachcomber?

 

Jess 

Currently?

 

Tracey 

Well, let’s talk pre COVID

 

Jess 

We’ve always had a strong domestic base, Australia, US, UK, Europe, which would generally be the you know, people who like hiking, biking, cruising. That sort of being our main markets that we would come across but domestic has been strong for us. It has always been strong for us and in with COVID hitting, that’s been the saving grace for us as well.  People wanting to get out and explore their own backyard.

 

Tracey 

What would be the number one tour that that people would do with you?

 

Jess 

The Mailboat cruise, it takes you out on the water transport visiting the residents that live out in the sounds and have water accessible only. You know, just a different way of life seeing how other people Live. Yeah, so we’re really happy to offer that.

 

Tracey 

So when I think of the Mailboat, have you ever seen that video where they get high school kids, and they make them run to the Jetty? And then they’ve got to run back to land and to the next jetty and go jump back onto the boat? Is that like your Mailboat?

 

Jess 

Well, no, I think my h&s officer would have a meltdown at that, actually. So no, we were pulling up to the jetties having a little bit more of a one on one time, you know, a bit more time feeding the dogs getting to know the clients. And yeah, they all become our friends after a while. So it’s nice.

 

Tracey 

Yeah. Now, is it true that you let kids hand out the mail?

 

Jess 

Yes, Tracey you can hand out the mail.

 

Tracey 

Thank you. Great. Next time I’m out there, I’ll be handing them out. Now look, let’s, let’s take a bit of a turn. So COVID hits you, you’re recently appointed GM take us through COVID.

 

Jess 

Wow. So everyone obviously has their own COVID story. But for me, I took over GM in May of 2019, I had come back from a trade show actually and stepped into the office and thought wow, you know, like life was pretty good. We were at the peak of the peak, we have nine vessels that were never docked alongside the wharf. So the problems I had been was lack of vessels. So now I have lack of people. So it’s kind of taken a turn. We had 25 people on payroll, we are a small family owned and operated company. So that was pretty big for us. We were up there. I had to make redundancies that broke my heart. I’m sure a lot of people, you know, in the tourism sector have had to but you know, these people are my friends and my family. So that really, you know, took a toll. And then I guess off the back of that was just our family stepping back in doing everything, and then the rebuild. So the rebuild wasn’t easy, you know, trying to find those people who had already found work. You know, previous staff had already moved on. Yeah, so just trying to build that legacy up again. So which, which I’m proud to say that I have done and moving forward.

 

Tracey 

Family business, who is in the business with you. So which family members are taking this journey with you?

 

Jess 

Sure.  My mom and dad, still, day to day operations are sort of still around, they have taken reserved step back, I guess, there is myself General Manager, my sister Laura, who’s in accounts and overseeing reservations as well. So four of us.

 

Tracey 

And if you got the kids doing any work in the business yet,

 

Jess

yeah, we bribe them with ice creams.

 

Tracey 

Talk me through it, You’re a small business, and you live in a small community. You’re in Picton, employing 25 people at the time of COVID. That would have had an impact on the community as well wouldn’t it by letting them go.

 

Jess 

Yeah. And I’m glad you can see that. Because you know everyone, that’s the family that you have been go and shopping from at the local supermarket, you go to the main street at the gift shops for birthdays, and all those sorts of things. So yeah, you know everyone, for example, with the two groups that had been coming off the cruise ships, Im employing a Skipper to be able to go and drive that vessel for those people. But without those tourists coming here, I can’t employ those skippers. With the community,  does have a really big knock on effect.

 

Tracey 

It must have been an absolute gut wrenching time. And as you mentioned, a lot of operators had to let people go and you know, we had to let people go but not in the scale that you did. And we know that there’s others out there that have had to do a lot more but the rebuild now you know, the rebuild. So COVID hit we went into lockdown, you come out what happens?

 

Jess 

Oh, wow. So even now it’s different to you know, pre COVID March 2020. So we come out of that, you know, we didn’t necessarily drop products, either, you know, pivot, swivel, or do what you want to do all those sorts of things, but there’s certain part of what

 

Tracey 

we’re trying not to say the word pivot were you avoiding saying the word Pivot ? I did say to just do not swear but pivots okay.

 

Jess 

Yeah. So those, you know, the walks that were for the longer kind of use for the German, French backpackers those that clientele that used to do those products. They weren’t here anymore. So we didn’t have to drop those products, they naturally dropped themselves. So yeah. The mailboat was our saving grace, you know, people were wanting to get out and explore. Yeah, so we were lucky. Yeah.

 

Tracey 

And how did you find, and this is a common problem with a lot of tourism businesses throughout New Zealand, Australia, is replacing staff. So you’ve let staff go. And you’ve now had to go find new staff? Just as, as you can, how easy or hard has it been to find staff for you?

 

Jess

Very hard. So Picton has a population of 4000 people. And 4000 people, I guess, some are over the age of 65, retired and some are younger as well. So we’re really going to have a small pool of, you know, people for employment. So it was hard to find enough skilled skippers who can do commentaries to find reservation staff who can work the hours of a tourism kind of business, you know, we’re not nine to five, Monday to Friday. So it has been hard. Lucky, I guess that we didn’t go back to the capacity that we were at pre COVID. So I’ve kind of got time to be able to find the right people.

 

Tracey

Plus, it just seems that until borders open, and I know, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t feel that you’ve really been a reliant employer of transient staff. You’ve always employed local. Is that right?

 

Jess 

Yeah, correct. We’ve always employed locally. So I’ve been really lucky and moving forward, if borders when borders open again, if I’ll be able to do that again, I don’t know.

 

Tracey 

It’s a really, it’s a really interesting one. – Employment,  and I feel that every business will have its own story about trying to find staff. I’ve been in workshops, where we’ve talked about actually pulling staff together, so that operators that may only need someone in the morning could send their staff to somewhere in the afternoon, but it sounds like you’ve got that all in order. Now. I want to move on. Because for people that don’t know Marlborough very well, they weren’t, they probably won’t even be aware that this actually happened. But in July, this year, we had a one in 100 year event, and it was the Marlborough floods. And this actually had quite a new devastating impact on a lot of businesses in Marlborough. Do you want to talk us through this one?

 

Jess 

Yeah, so July 17 & 18, we had the big flood there was significant damage to the region, Queen Charlotte track and on the Kenepuru side of the Queen Charlotte’s track, was really hit quite bad. So I guess if you if you divide my business for walks and cruises, this just took out all of those walks. So since July 17, we’ve not been able to access the Queen Charlotte track for anyone. So yeah, we’re down to that. That’s true and a one and 100 year flood.

 

Tracey 

Yeah, and, and then in that, we’re going to have a lockdown. So for anyone, that doesn’t really understand scale of this is that there is quite a significant amount of accommodation that is situated on the Queen Charlotte track. And even those properties now have lost significant amounts of business because they stay  there for mainly one reason. One reason is to walk the track and at the moment, there’s only very small parts and  Jess we were just talking before that we’ve heard that there’s small portion of the track that is opening up. Is that right?

 

Jess 

Yeah, correct. That Ship Cove to Furneax, and then mistletoe through to Anikiwa, so very good timing for those holidays coming up.

 

Tracey 

So the floods in the Kenepuru side has also caused a lot of damage, It’s not necessarily walking track, but it’s the road. It’s completely cut people off from their homes. Primary Industries are struggling. So there’s farms out there, they can’t move their stock. So It’s a problem that a lot of people are not necessarily hearing about.

 

Jess 

I mean, that could be a good thing and a bad thing. You know, if you don’t know about it, come on, that’s great. But if you don’t know about it. So, yeah,

 

Tracey 

I think the thing that comes from this is that there is actually a lot more to do in Marlborough than just walking the track. And as you indicated before, we’ve got the Mailboat which is a perfect way to go out and explore the Queen Charlotte Sounds, and deliver mail to those communities that are living out in the sounds. And whilst the track has been a draw card, it’s not necessarily the only reason for coming hear.  People can still come here and enjoy and have something to do.

 

Jess 

And I guess on that Tracey, I guess if you talk business wise, I’m lucky to be able to get creative, you notice that the Queen Charlotte track is off. So let’s do something else. You know, there’s the Moturua  bird island Kaipopo Island. So rather than walking the track, I’ve been able to use my water transport to be able to do different things. So having to get creative. But yeah, making the most out of what we have.

 

Tracey  

And that’s great and that’s a really lovely segway to one thing that I have admired about what you do is you don’t get stuck in the moment. And for a very long time. Closer to when you actually became GM, you started coming up with lots of local events.

 

Jess 

Yes, yes. And I’ve worked really well, we’ve got an amazing community here. And I really need to get out and support us. Yeah, we were doing just sort of fun family events, and they really took off better than I thought that they would. So it’s really nice to be able to engage with the community and you know, go to the local schools and say, hey, you know, this is what’s on offer, get out and enjoy your backyard as much as we’re able to take the tourists, you know, from a way out.

 

Tracey 

Now, I want to move on to another topic. And whilst we’ve talked about COVID, and floods, and it’s sometimes really hard to see the positive in what we do in the business, because the people around us don’t have any business, they’re failing, they’re closing, it’s devastating. But we sometimes have to turn and look and think about some of the positive. So I want to ask you, what is your proudest moment? What are your proudest moments?

 

Jess 

Well, first of all, I’ve got to say, I’ve been a mom, my two beautiful girls. So I’m proud of that. And I’m still a working mom, so

 

Tracey 

COVID with them and locked down and teaching homeschooling with them.

 

Jess 

Yes,

 

Tracey 

yes, I’m homeschooling my children, nine to five, I absolutely did.

 

Jess 

Oh, my proudest, my moments are probably controlling the controllable. And right from the get go. Since COVID. This has kind of been my motto, I can’t control COVID. But I can control the things around me, and how I move forward. So probably been able to rebuild my team, rebuild our family business, get involved in the community have the community backing us. You know, I mean, I’ve got a vision of where I want to take the business in. And I don’t think that this is going to stop me doing that. I’ve got a great team, beside me and with me to be able to do that. So I’m probably coming out of COVID. Now we’re Delta coming out of round two, I guess you want to say for us COVID and still been open? You know, I think that for a lot of businesses in the tourism sector, that’s the proud moment, you know, take the small wins, and even if they are small, take them as the winner because it’s hard at the moment for a lot of big business operators. So yeah, I’ve been able to come to work every day and provide tourists with the amazing array of products that we do have would be my proudest moment. I love what I do. So I’m really lucky.

Beachcomber cruises

Tracey 

Yeah, and let’s put aside the fact that you are now a board member of Destination Marlborough.

 

Jess 

I am I am. I did Destination Marlborough Board Member

 

Tracey 

slide that one in and is fairly recent, isn’t it? How long is that now?

 

Jess 

four months now.

 

Tracey 

And that says a lot of things Jess that says that in your time you have and especially as a GM you’ve now been recognised as one of those thoughts Leaders in our  region, and you know, getting on the DM board is actually quite a significant achievement. So congratulations for joining the board.

 

Jess 

Thanks, Tracey. Yeah, no, I’m really looking forward to getting in there and representing the region

 

Tracey 

One thing I do want to share with people is, they don’t realise Jess, and video never brings it out. The true essence of a person, when we talk about manaakitanga, and how we make people feel welcome. One thing that you and your team always do is that,  as soon as people enter the door of your business, you know, the  team in the office will always make you feel welcome. The only thing that I don’t get, though, that the kids do is they get ice cream when they come in. And so can I just make sure that when I come in, I get some ice cream?

 

Jess 

I will save a pineapple lump, one for you

 

Tracey 

Fabulous! So just where do you see the future? Now? I mean, we’ve had a rough, you know, like probably the hardest 18 months of anyone’s business career. I mean, I know for myself, and you when we talk quite often just about where the world is going. If you could look into your crystal ball, what could you predict, what do you think is next?

 

Jess 

Well, I have a hull of a boat, that I would like to finish. Pre COVID, we were building a 175 seat vessel. We had to put that on hold. So I don’t know, it’s just it. Who knows, I really want the border  to start to open. I don’t think tourism was broken before. I think that we just need to manage it a little bit better. I can’t wait for the day that internationals return, To hear all those different accents coming through my door again and wanting to get out and explore. So for me just encouraging people back into our beautiful region.

 

Tracey 

I think that’s probably the best way to end. You know, so Jess I want to say a big thank you. You know, I’ve enjoyed working with you and knowing you and I am very, very grateful that you take the time today to talk to us. And you know, I do see such great things happening and you don’t stop, you might fall over occasionally, but you do not stop. So I wish you all the best in the GM role. And hopefully that that hull of a boat, we’ll finally get filled in the next 12 to 18 months. And hopefully those borders do open soon.

 

Learn more about Beachcomber Cruises by visiting www.beachcombercruises.co.nz

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October 31, 2021
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