Angelika traces the ups and downs of running your own tourism business. In Christchurch the earthquakes, and more recently Covid 19 had brought business to a standstill. Each time she reshaped it to meet the challenges. Post Covid she introduced SideTracks Women – inviting local women to Re-discover New Zealand.
See Angelika’s Trips for women here – hiking and biking in NZ’s great outdoors.
I can say that I live an exciting life. Most of all, I like to be on tour as a guide. In a year without extraordinary events, I am about 5.5 months on tour. Exceptional circumstances are for example the earthquakes here in Christchurch in 2010/2011 or Covit-19 this year.
But I am not just a tour guide, since 1995 here in New Zealand, but also run my own company. I founded Sidetracks in 2001, so of course, there is much more work and all kind of other jobs to do.
My preferred office job is planning new trips. It triggers my creative side. I think about how to combine a wide variety of exciting and fascinating landscapes and the perfect selection of activities to create a delightful trip.
The name of my company works as a guideline in this: Sidetracks!
It means two things to me:
On the one hand, I wish that our guest on tours ‘get sidetracked’. Taken away from their everyday life, from the stress and time pressure that many of them often experience. And sometimes in life, you need to get sidetracked out of a difficult personal situation.
Twenty-five years ago, I experienced this myself. I had reached a point in my working life I needed to escape. A bit like the saying: Love it, changed it or leave it. But I had no idea what to do instead. It’s not easy to know after working in your own company for more than 14 years. I needed some time off and experience something different before I could search for my new perspective. That’s how I came to New Zealand back then!
Sidetracks for me also means to go ‘Off-the-Beaten’, at least trying to avoid overcrowded destinations on our trips as much as possible. Instead, I try to include many less-visited attractions (places, walks, etc.) in our programmes.
But ‘different’ is not always easy to sell, at least not in the international market. Too many visitors coming to New Zealand and believe they are missing out the most beautiful destinations in our beautiful country if they haven’t been to Rotorua, Queenstown or Milford Sound. That’s a pity because it makes trips that do not have these focal points hard to sell.
My first contact with tourism goes back to 1978. Back then, I studied social work (in Germany) and had to do an internship during my university studies. I did this in a voluntary association which organised youth travel with an educational purpose – and I like a lot of their concept. To mention just one example is ‘self-catering’ and it’s value to ‘form’ individuals into a group within the shortest of time. Also my guests today are not young people many of the principles learned back then are ‘ageless’, and I follow them still today in my tours.
After finishing my studies, I founded a company in 1980, together with five friends. At first, we very specialised. We almost exclusively offered transportation, accommodation, tour guiding and translation service for international music, dance and theatre groups (driver/guide/translator all in one person).
This was probably the most exciting time in my life. At just 23 years of age – and as one of the first women to drive coaches (up to 40-seater) in Germany – I travelled with monks from Tunisia, with dance and music groups from Congo, Uganda, Colombia, Sikkim, Ladakh, a theatre group with 36 members from Cuba or for example a group from the Cook Islands. The tours mostly included Italy, France, Netherlands and Germany and trips were between eight days and three weeks. It was often exhausting work because performances were mainly in the evening, usually until10:30 or 11:00 pm. Finishing their gigs, the groups still needed to eat something before we drove them back to the hotel where we often arrived after midnight. Most days, we had to leave the hotel early again. Sometimes we had to drive very long distances and be in time for the next performance.
These trips were often tough work, but they were also ‘lessons for life’. Not only did I learn a lot about my groups home countries, but often they also opened my eyes to my own country Germany. I guess as a traveller in their country; I wouldn’t have learned near as much about their culture. These were super exciting times!
Quickly we had to realise our company wouldn’t make enough money with this specialisation to make a living for all us five company owners. So our company developed new and more products, got more and more diverse. Once started growing, it became bigger and bigger. The bigger our company became, the more we were stuck in the office. As managing directors, we were too ‘important’ to work as driver/guides.
While we felt glued to our desks, others enjoyed working as bus drivers/tour guides and experienced all the exciting trips.
In 1989, it was time for me to take a break. I spent almost seven months living on Rarotonga (Cook Islands) – guess why many women decide to live far away from home ;-). (Love is in the air ….)
By 1994 our company had 16 coaches and 55 permanent employees, as well as over 50 seasonal bus drivers and tour guides.
A company too big for my taste and needs. It no longer fitted with my ideas of what I wanted ‘my’ company to be and to look like. In 1995 I quit. I started working as a tour guide in New Zealand. The plan was to do so for one season and then start something new in Germany. But it happened differently.
I guided for four years in New Zealand, and during NZ winter, two summers in Canada. I was a happy tour guide. And I had so much to learn; it capped me busy.
After these four years, it didn’t fill me up anymore. I needed additional challenges, needed something to keep my head busy. That’s when I started my own company. So from the start on it was clear to me I would keep my company small and personal. I wanted a company manageable it in a way that I still could be on the road.
So, I am the founder of Sidetracks; there is no doubt that without my team. It just wouldn’t be possible to run my company successfully at the same time I want to work as a guide and be away from the office each year for up to five month. Running my own company means I can work with like-minded people, both in the office or as tour guides as well as co-operating prefered with local partners who share the same or similar ideas and values.
More often ‘course of life’ has made it necessary for me to re-oriented. This happened back in 1995 when I first came to New Zealand. It happened again in 2010 and 2011 when the earthquakes struck. I had not only to cope with the fact that my house was damaged. I also had to deal with the fact that our neighbourhood was declared RED zone, meaning we all had to leave. (These were perhaps one of the hardest moments in my life.)
The earthquakes meant for my business – no more bookings, almost overnight. We had some advanced bookings, but we didn’t get any new once. The following season 2011/2012 became a financial dilemma. I started thinking about how I could somehow make up for this. I developed trips for Kiwis & Australians in Germany (www.sidetracks-germany.co.nz).
This was an opportunity because it is a contrary season. When winter starts in New Zealand, it’s becoming summer in Germany. Since 1996 I had spent every New Zealand winter in the Germany summer anyway.
2020 ‘welcomed’ us then with Covit-19. I hardly need to describe the effects on tourism and especially on international tourism in New Zealand as well as in Germany.
Refocusing on NZ Women and domestic travel
And so I once again ‘mobilised all my forces’ and changed the direction of my company. We had some women-only groups on our tours before, but more by chance. These tours made me very aware of the difference between how women often feel in mixed groups compared with how they feel and behave in a group of only women. My impression is some women are much more relaxed in a women-only group. I think they allow themselves to walk a slower, to stop for a look back are around, to take a nice photo or just rest a little while.
I had observed in mixed-gender groups (especially women 50+) women seem are afraid of being the slowest. A fear often unjustified, but even knowing this doesn’t take the fear away. And no woman should feel like that!
These observations were some of the reason for my decision to offer women tours when Covit-19 forced me to restructure.
My aim is for women to feel comfortable and relaxed on our tours. I love to encourage women to undertake new ‘adventures’ in an environment where they feel safe.
I want them to enjoy their walk or bike rides. I would love to encourage them to undertake new ‘adventures’ in an environment where they feel comfortable and safe.
I grew up in Germany near the Dutch border in a family with six kid’s on a small farm. In my childhood, small farms meant working hard, because surviving on a small farm was hard.
All of us children learned very early, at the age of 5, to take responsibility and to work together. It never hurt me, quite the contrary. I still work a lot and enjoy it! For what I am very grateful is I have a high level of energy, creativity and drive. I believe I inherited this from my Mum and she from her Mum.