Tourism Holdings Limited (thl) – A History

thl is a global tourism operator. We are listed on the NZX and are a leading provider of RVs for rent and sale across New Zealand, Australia, North America, and Europe. Within New Zealand we operate tourism attractions with Kiwi Experience and the Discover Waitomo group, which includes Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Ruakuri Cave, Aranui Cave and The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. thl also owns Action Manufacturing, New Zealand’s largest motorhome and specialist vehicle manufacturer.

1980's - 1995 The beginnings in Helicopters and High Country

Tourism Holdings Limited thl had its roots firmly in the scenic and adventure wonderland of the Otago region of New Zealand's South Island and traces its beginnings to three separate companies that merged to form The Helicopter Line in the 1980s. These pioneers of modern day tourism in New Zealand were dedicated to giving visitors to the region the time of their lives. The same objective exists to this day. Throughout its history the company has developed and expanded on the back of a range of iconic tourism brands. The company name, in itself, has been that of a parent company but the true heroes of the business have been its individual experiences and the brands attached to those experiences. Over time some of those brands have developed, grown, or in some cases, sold or phased out.

In its early days, The Helicopter Line specialised in chartered scenic flights with a fleet of 42 helicopters and also held a 54% interest in the Treble Cone ski fields near Wanaka. It listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange in 1986 (THL).

In 1988 the company first entered the motorhome market, with the purchase of maui Rental Campervans and the Mount Cook Group motorhome fleet.

1995 – 2006 Rapid Growth & Diversity

Steady growth, strategic investments and acquisitions changed the nature of The Helicopter Line and in 1996 the company changed its name to Tourism Holdings Limited (thl) to more accurately reflect its diverse stable of tourism experiences, attractions and vehicle rental operations.

These included iconic private businesses such as the Newmans Group, The Mount Cook Group and Horizon Holidays and from Government origins with the likes of Milford Sound Red Boats, Waitomo Glowworm Caves and hotels purchased from the former Tourist Hotel Corporation (THC).

During this period, Tourism Holdings Limited firmly established its position as a key player in New Zealand tourism with increasing growth and investment in Australia.

  • A number of the brands and businesses that make up current day thl were acquired in this period:
  • - In 1995 60% of the RV manufacturing business CiMunro was acquired, with the remaining 40% acquired two years later.
  • - Britz Motorhomes, operating in New Zealand and Australia, was acquired in 1999.
  • - A 50% interest in Kiwi Experience and Oz Experience guided bus operations was acquired in 1995, with the remaining 50% purchased in 2000.
  • - The Legendary Blackwater Rafting Company and the licence to operate Ruakuri Caves at Waitomo were acquired in 2003. The Ruakuri Caves were developed into an attraction that opened in 2005.
  • - Backpacker Campervans was established in 1996 as a second tier brand to Britz. Fifteen years later it was well established across New Zealand and Australia with a significant fleet and was rebranded to Mighty, one of the thl motorhome brands today.

In 2005 a fire destroyed the Waitomo Caves Visitor Centre.

2007 – 2010 RV Focus and Strategic Realignment

In 2007, the company commenced a significant strategic realignment to change the asset mix of the group with a focus on the motorhome rentals businesses, with maui, Britz and Mighty brands across New Zealand and Australia. Most of the non-motorhome tourism businesses were sold, apart from the Waitomo Caves attractions and Kiwi Experience.

In pursuit of growth and leveraging a core competency in running motorhome businesses, thl acquired the US based Road Bear RV Rentals and Sales in 2010, and has since grown the business with additional fleet and locations.

In 2007 Action Motor Bodies, an engineering and vehicle customisation business, was acquired. This business which manufactures a range of specialist vehicles, including St Johns ambulances and mobile medical vehicles, now forms part of the Action Manufacturing JV.

In 2008, following the establishment of a new lease formed to operate Waitomo Glowworm Caves with an extension to 2027 with the owners, the Ruapuha Uekaha Hapu Trust and the Department of Conservation, construction started on a new Waitomo Glowworm Cave Visitor Centre. The new iconic building was opened in 2010.

2011 – 2015 Industry Rationalisation, Expansion

In 2012 the RV manufacturing operations of CiMunro and specialist vehicle manufacturing operations of Action Motorbodies were merged with KEA Manufacturing to form a 50% Joint Venture called RVMG LP, since re-named, Action Manufacturing Limited. The owner of KEA Manufacturing, Grant Brady, became the General Manager of the JV. Action Manufacturing now designs and manufactures quality mobile solutions across two factories including work in the medical, emergency, tourism and transport scenes.

In 2012 thl led a consolidation of the NZ motorhome rental industry in merging with KEA Campers and United Campervans. In the same year thl acquired the use of the KEA brand in Australia.

Over 2013 and 2014 the combined NZ rental fleet size was rationalised and reduced by around 25% to better match demand and increase Return on Funds Employed (ROFE).

Following the merger, thl operated the KEA, maui, Britz and Mighty brands in Australia and the same brands, with the addition of United and Alpha, in New Zealand. For the 2016 season the brands were consolidated to maui, Britz and Mighty.

In 2015 thl purchased a 49% stake in Just Go, a UK based motorhome rentals and sales business. In the same year a 46% stake was purchased in Geozone, a NZ based provider of GPS based travel apps, including Campermate.

The focus over the 2013-2015 period was on improving the ROFE of the business and positioning the core business model for future growth. The driving forces behind these changes were a strong focus on efficient capital management and allocation, improvements in fleet vehicle design, improvements in operational logistics and a strong customer focus.

2016 – 2018 Growth, Innovation, and Global Partnerships

  • In August 2015 thl released the results of a strategic review completed by First NZ Capital. The key outcomes of the review included:
  • - An updated dividend policy with a target payout of 75%-90% NPAT.
  • - A focus on identifying and transacting value accretive acquisitions, either globally or domestically.
  • - A focus on growth, with a target of $30M NPAT in FY19 from existing businesses.

In FY16 thl launched two initiatives aimed at creating a more flexible fleet capital deployment model. The first of these, referred to as ‘flex fleet’, involves the build or purchase of fleet that is used across a peak season and then sold within a 9-18 month period, as opposed to the traditional model (in NZ and Australia) of holding fleet for a 5-6 year period. The flex fleet initiative has been made possible through the growth of vehicle sales channels including the RV Super Centres in Auckland and Christchurch and the RV Sales Centre in Melbourne.

The second initiative around fleet was the launch of Mighway in New Zealand in November 2015, a peer to peer RV rental business, thl's entry into the sharing economy. Following the success of the owner model fundamentals in New Zealand, thl announced it would be launching Mighway in the USA sometime in Q1 2017.

In FY16 the GeoZone business was purchased. The technology and content obtained through the GeoZone purchase has been incorporated into thl's suite of tablet and mobile device based customer tools and installed in the entire RV fleet in NZ and Australia. As part of the expansion of the business and a desire to create a leading global platform within the RV industry, thl announced a partnership with Roadtrippers (a top North American based road travel app and data business). The partnership involves the creation of a joint venture business in Australia and New Zealand combining the thl GeoZone business with Roadtrippers in these markets.

Also launched for the peak NZ summer season in FY16, was the Waitomo Caves Homestead. This large restaurant, café and retail outlet was purchased and refurbished. It provided increased food and beverage and retail capacity for the Discover Waitomo cave attractions business.

In April 2016 the company announced that it brought forward the target date for achievement of the $30M NPAT target to FY18.

In December 2016 the company announced the purchase of El Monte RV Rental and Sales, the second largest North American based RV business, and a long established player in both domestic and international tourist industry. At the same time the company announced a FY2020 goal of $50M NPAT.

In February 2018, thl entered into an agreement to establish Togo - a 50:50 joint venture with Thor Industries Inc., the leading RV manufacturer globally by volume. The goal of Togo is to create a digital platform for RV owners to improve every aspect of RV ownership, including trip planning and booking, remote monitoring systems, roadside assistance, and peer-to-peer RV and campsite rental. As part of the joint-venture, Togo has entered agreement to purchase 100% of Roadtrippers, together with acquiring thl assets Mighway, CamperMate, and several RV management technology platforms.

As at today, thl is a multi-national RV centric business operating in New Zealand, Australia, USA and the UK with two tourism businesses in NZ, Discover Waitomo, and Kiwi Experience.