We sat down with TRC team member, Brad Kirner, and had a chat about his background and his life in Mangawhai Heads, New Zealand.
Hey Brad. Tell us about your relationship with Mangawhai Heads?
It’s a fantastic place to live! Mangawhai Heads is a great little beach town about 90mins drive north of Auckland. My family and I moved up here almost a year ago – we’d spent a bit of time here previously and during the first Covid-19 lockdown decided we needed to get out of Auckland and live a more balanced lifestyle. It was a huge decision but I’m so glad we made it! There’s something really special about being part of a smaller rural community, especially with two little kids.
Can you tell me a bit about your career path and what led you to the role you’re in today?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do when leaving high school, so just picked a random course at university (Transport & Logistics) and went along with whatever happened. Once at uni I stumbled upon a love for marketing and almost instantly linked it with tourism (one of my first projects was a review of the 100% Pure New Zealand brand). Upon graduating I landed a job with Nelson/Tasman Tourism at the local I-SITE which gave my first taste of the tourism industry. I loved it but then ended up in England on a rugby contract (long story). A few years later I returned to NZ and started adventure guiding for Happy Valley Adventures (now Cable Bay Adventure Park) in Nelson. After a summer of that I ended up in the States promoting trips for International Student Volunteers to university students, then came home and was the adventure guide for the same company’s coach tours. Then one morning the real world came calling and I ended up landing a job at Tourism New Zealand (TBH I’m still not sure how I pulled that one off)… and over 5 years worked my way up to managing the Youth/backpacker focused campaigns. After a quick stint as a brand manager for a whiskey company (yes, there were definite perks) I was fortunate enough to be offered a position as General Manager for Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari, working directly with the owner and a small team of passionate marine-mammal experts. It started as a small operation but over 5-6 years we managed to dramatically improve both the customer experience and the brand positioning and ended up selling to Entrada Travel Group (formally Intercity Coachlines). My position was included with the sale, but not long after that Covid-19 hit and unfortunately the whole operation was put into hibernation. It was then that I decided to put lifestyle and family first, and we moved up to Mangawhai. There isn’t much tourism going on up here (even pre Covid) so it was a real unknown in terms of what I would be doing workwise, but I was (and still am) very grateful to TRC who allow me to work as a consultant remotely from home.
What were some of your early roles in the field?
I-SITE visitor information consultant and adventure guide.
What does a work day look like for you?
I’m fortunate that I can work remotely from home, so get to balance work with homelife. My wife and I have two kids (3 & 5) so life is always a busy juggle! Mostly I’m hanging out in my home-office (garage) with the dog keeping my feet warm and the washing machine being put on pause whenever I have a Zoom call! There’s some travel involved (about 2-3 days away per month) which is always enjoyable but does take some coordination with my wife. Being a freelance consultant, I love being able to manage my own time and balance work with helping at home – picking up the kids and going for a bike ride with the dog is always a welcome break in my workday!
What are some big projects you’re working on now or that you’ve finished up in the last few weeks/months?
I’m looking at my job list and are amazed at the variety of projects I get to be involved with! We’ve just started the Whakatane Tourism Recovery Programme which is a real honour to be involved with as the region looks to recover from both the Whakaari (White Island) tragedy and the ongoing effects of Covid-19. I’m also involved with developing a few different Destination Management Plans around the country, and have another project surrounding the potential development of a shorebird centre in the Coromandel.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do? / What are you most excited about right now?
For me I absolutely love getting out there and talking to a whole lot of different people around the country. I also really enjoy learning and constantly find myself being involved in these incredible conversations where I get to gain knowledge and insights from a wide variety of viewpoints.
Is there something that surprised you about the role when you first started?
Just how widespread and impactful the effects of tourism are (or can be) within a community. It’s not just about people visiting and doing stuff – when approached the right way, tourism and the visitor economy can represent such an incredibly powerful enabler for people and communities in ways that I never knew were possible.
What skills do you think are most important for someone interested in a job like yours?
The ability to connect with a wide variety of people and form positive relationships quickly. It’s all about asking the right questions but then shutting your gob and listening to what they have to say.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face day-to-day?
Ignoring all the creative marketing ideas that pop into my head and remaining focused on destination management and top-level strategic thinking (admittedly sometimes I can’t help it and indulge anyway).
What about the biggest rewards?
Allowing people (no matter who they are) to feel like they are being heard, and that their personal challenges or aspirations really matter.
What are you passionate about outside of work?
Family comes first – I have two little girls and a lovely wife who keep me on my toes and constantly help me keep things in perspective. Whenever I’m not working (and sometimes when I am) I’m taking the time to get involved, be silly and have fun with them.