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Tough times force Kangaroo Island tour company sell-off

Business

Kangaroo Island Wilderness Tours has been absorbed by fellow island tour company Exceptional KI following the double blow of bushfires and the coronavirus pandemic.

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Kangaroo Island Wilderness Tours offered a variety of four-wheel-drive wildlife and nature tours of the Island.

For the past 18 years it was owned by Paul Brown and based out of Parndana, in the centre of the island.

Brown said he sold the business for an undisclosed amount to Exceptional KI following a severe drop in revenue due to the island’s devastating bushfire and the coronavirus pandemic, which locked tourists out during one of the busiest times of year.

“(In) January we were involved in fighting the fires and I had family involved in that and friends who were impacted by that,” Brown said.

“Ninety-seven per cent of our business came from overseas, so we were impacted very heavily in those first few weeks of the bushfires and obviously with COVID-19, which impacted the business and as well as a lot of other people.”

He said customers who had booked tours with KI Wilderness Tours would not be affected.

Brown said he lost his property on the island four years ago to an electrical fire and had been based in Adelaide ever since.

He said while it was a culmination of events that drove him to eventually sell the business, he had wanted to keep the company within the community.

“I gave Craig Wickham a ring and had a chat to him and thought it was best that he be given the first opportunity to purchase the business of Kangaroo Island Wilderness Tours,” Brown said.

“It’s a family company and they’re Kangaroo Island people and I thought they were the perfect fit for Kangaroo Island Wilderness Tours around March/April this year.

“The name will disappear and the company, which has been going for 26 years and we’ve owned it for 18 of that. But these are difficult times and we’re very proud of what we’ve built up at Wilderness Tours.”

Brown said while the brand had merged with Exceptional Kangaroo Island, the Parndana assets and vehicles were sold to separate buyers.

Exceptional Kangaroo Island provides a range of single and multi-day guided small group and private tours of the island in four-wheel-drive vehicles, as well as event management and catering.

Company managing director Craig Wickham said the purchase offered a chance to capitalise on growth in overseas markets.

“They certainly operate in some different markets to us. They are very, very strong in Switzerland, for example, they’re strong in the Netherlands, in France much more than us,” Wickham said.

“We’ve both been around for a long, long time. So, if people have been focused on selling Australia, they’ve been aware of both of us. And when people were thinking about coming to KI they were tossing a coin if they worked with Wilderness Tours or Exceptional KI.”

Wickham said, like KI Wilderness Tours, Exceptional KI had suffered a huge drop in revenue as a result of border restrictions.

“About two weeks following July 10, we lost about $420,000 in sales, through cancellation – it was enormous,” Wickham said.

“We were deemed to not be an essential service, so we operated our last tour on March 23 and our next one wasn’t until September.”

Wickham said while booking demand had since increased, it fluctuated, with international travellers forced to postpone their trips until next year. The majority of interstate travel had also been difficult due to border quarantines and domestic travellers usually choosing to bring their cars onto the island rather than booking guided tours, he said.

“It’s about really sharing those experiences that our international guests have been coming to us for years, but they are coming without a vehicle, so they want end-to-end hospitality.

“Whereas, if someone is coming from Adelaide and they’ve got their own vehicle, they really just want to have a dining experience and something that is just part of an overall journey.

“So, for Australian customers … we’ve put together some longer stay trips.

“It gives them that deep behind the scenes experience, which if they were self-driving, they would never know they could do.”

The company has also started producing videos and virtual tours of key bushfire affected areas and some of the region’s favourite natural attractions as a form of record keeping and to keep people engaged with the Island.

“We have that up on our website, so people can go and look at remarkable rocks or Stokes Bay or the fire recovery, and get a sense of Kangaroo Island. We’ve really tried to keep people engaged, so they can see how rapidly it’s changing,” Wickham said.

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