Leading Into Adventure

A new diploma being run from college based in New Zealand’s adventure capital is providing management skills in burgeoning area of this country’s travel industry – adventure tourism.
The two-year Adventure Tourism Management Course run by Queenstown Resort College (QRC) is not just the first of its kind in New Zealand; it’s the first in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s attracting lot of interest both at home and overseas with approximately 70 percent Kiwi and 30 percent international students amongst the 17 graduates from the first course this year.
As the Government’s Deputy Leader and local MP Bill English noted at recent graduation ceremony, tourism, as major New Zealand industry, must have “highly specialised and competent management for it to be successful”.
And that’s what the course aims to provide – by blending business management and leadership skills with practical work experience and adventure education. Students learn from experienced industry practitioners, and six months of fully paid industry training with an adventure tourism business is part of the diploma package.
QRC is privately owned and operated by education experts. Prime movers in its foundation were well-known businessman and entrepreneur Eion Edgar, who is the present chairman and former Chancellor of the University of Otago, and Jan Fitz-Gerald, who came to Queenstown in 2000 after spending 13 years helping to transform Auckland Polytechnic into the Auckland University of Technology. These two helped nurse QRC through its early stages when it was launched into what were then uncharted seas.
The diploma was developed by the college in consultation with Queenstown’s hospitality and adventure tourism industry leaders and is continuously evolving in line with industry trends. An industry advisory board regularly critiques it to ensure relevancy and accuracy.
The course is earning positive support from local tourism businesses and, suggests Destination Queenstown CEO Stephen Pahl, will help raise the bar for Queenstown’s tourism industry.
“Adventure tourism requires unique set of skills and training so it’s great to see an educational facility working closely with industry to deliver such relevant programme.”
Graduates of the diploma course from Queenstown Resort College are qualified to continue on to Bachelor Degree at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in British Colombia, Canada’s leading specialist in adventure tourism education and training.
QRC’s CEO Charlie Phillips has lived in Queenstown for 12 years and, when general manager of car rental company Europcar, was influential in turning it from 30 to an 800-car operation with centres in New Zealand, Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.
“The key word on this course is management,” says Phillips. He is concerned that in the service industries of New Zealand and Australia “there is lack of people with rounded view at mid-management level. They can do job but do not have the theory or practice of management to be fully effective in their roles.”
He says students spend the first six months of the course learning how service industry works and how all the parts interrelate. “On the adventure tourism management course you learn about the management structure, financing and marketing. You also learn to ensure everything is safe and sustainable. This also means ensuring risk is minimised to the extent that the client still enjoys the adventure experience.”
Phillips is emphatic this is vital, for when students go out on their internships they must understand what they are doing and where it fits into the whole picture. This internship provides real learning in the market and real world. In this practical part of the course, “the light bulb really goes on; they see how what they have been learning in the classroom is effectively applied”.
For the future, it is envisaged that QRC consolidates the adventure management tourism course and then expands it into full degree course. “We know we have good product that is very different from anything anywhere.” Other places offer skill development, but nowhere else is anyone offering risk management.
As part of raising its profile overseas, QRC recently bought the sponsorship for the top major competition at the inaugural Winter Games NZ held in Queenstown.
CEO Charlie Phillips says supporting the event helps profile the region as serious study destination. “While the majority of our student body is currently domestic, we’re excited by the opportunity to showcase QRC on the international stage. Both QRC and the Winter Games NZ stand for excellence and achievement at the very highest level.”

Peter Owens is director of Gore-based Eastern Media.

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