No bigger than the state of Colorado, New Zealand may not look like much on a map, but the southernmost island nation in the Pacific Ocean is full of must-see destinations and attractions. The country has breathtaking natural beauty, extraordinary cultural history and great food and wine.

No matter the destination, leisure travelers looking to take in as much as possible while avoiding logistical stresses and aggravations often turn to escorted tours. When it comes to New Zealand and motorcoach travel, that often means Scenic Tours. 

The independently owned Australian company got its start in 1987 when the managing director, Glen Moroney, began running packaged holidays for seniors looking for competitively priced, all-inclusive tours.

"When he first started the company, his markets were purely aimed at Aussie and Kiwi [New Zealander] travelers, those traveling in their own country or across the Tasman Sea," said Neil Dudley, Scenic's North American sales and business development manager. "And then as the company grew and sold more and more tours, he started branching out and selling tours in North America and U.K. markets."

Scenic overview

Today, Scenic Tours hosts visitors from all over the world, offering first-class tours ranging from two-night city stopovers to 24-night itineraries that hit all of the highlights.

Overnight stays in New Zealand's finest hotels and meals at many of the country's excellent restaurants are part of all the packages.

Clients have the option of upgrading to luxurious, five-star lodges at several stops, which gets them a little closer to their surroundings.

"New Zealand is very ecofriendly, very much one with nature," said Dudley. "And that's what all these lodges are aimed at: big, beautiful sprawling grounds, lots of things to do that are nature related. But they're all still very high-end."

Scenic Tours' clients enjoy a great deal of freedom on each tour. The company's Free Choice program gives customers a wide range of activities and tours to choose from at each stop.

Swimming with dolphins, sailing, hiking, trout fishing, jet boating and bungee jumping are just a few of the many options clients can enjoy at no extra cost. And, according to Dudley, the introduction of all these choices had a dramatic impact on the business.

"We used to be a pretty traditional coach- touring company with clients whose average age was about 60-plus," Dudley said. "And then when we introduced the Scenic Free Choice concepts about eight years ago, it actually lowered the average age to about 46. So it opened us to a whole new class of coach-touring clients."

Not that Scenic Tours has ceded the seniors market. In 1998, it purchased Evergreen Tours, a provider of escorted tours that operates in New Zealand.

Focused on budget touring, Evergreen offers trips ranging from eight to 17 nights, complete with three- to four-star accommodations and meals. While both operators cover similar territory, the Evergreen brand appeals to a more mature demographic.

"We aim it at the 60-plus crowd," Dudley said. "It's all-inclusive, value-minded, and we still want to give them all the highlights, but it's definitely a more traditional coach market."

Scenic and Evergreen tours are sold exclusively through wholesalers. Dudley said Pleasant Holidays is the company's largest account in the U.S. Offering travel agents commissions starting at 10%, Pleasant Holidays has been selling Scenic and Evergreen tours for the past eight years.

"We've enjoyed a wonderful and beneficial relationship with Scenic and Evergreen Tours for several years now," said Glen Stewart, vice president of Pleasant Holidays' Asia and South Pacific division. "They're a company with an unsurpassed passion for Australia and New Zealand, which really shows in their extensive product selection."

Local intelligence

According to Dudley, passion, often imparted on the front lines by capable tour directors and drivers, is a key part of every Scenic or Evergreen tour.

Scenic and Evergreen strive to hire gracious and knowledgeable employees, he said, stressing the importance of recognizing each customer as an individual as well as cultivating an open, friendly group dynamic on every tour.

In New Zealand, every Scenic and Evergreen director and driver is a New Zealander.   

"When we're hiring coach captains and tour directors, we look for local individuals who can interact with clients and talk freely about their own experiences," Dudley said.

"We really want people who live here and know the area well because the local culture is an extremely important part of the New Zealand touring experience."

Ultimately, of course, it's the destination that attracts customers, and both Scenic and Evergreen strive to show clients the best New Zealand has to offer.

From the relaxed, balmy beaches in the Bay of Islands, where Kiwis go for sand and sunshine, to the remarkable geothermal region of Rotorua, Franz Josef Glacier and countless pristine national parks, New Zealand's stunning natural beauty is priority No. 1.

However, each itinerary also exposes visitors to the culture and rich history of the indigenous Maori, a Polynesian people.

Clients also get a chance to "live dangerously" down south in Queenstown.

"Queenstown bills itself as the adventure capital of the world," Dudley said. "They invented the Shotover River jet boats down there. They invented bungee jumping. It's the home of all of those canyon swings. So they really live up to that adventure capital title, and then some."

With so much to enjoy, it's no wonder the little island nation has become such a popular place for travelers.

"The great thing about New Zealand is that it's a country that has a whole range of different things to see and do but in a very compact area," Dudley said. "So it's really just a fantastic coach-touring destination."

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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