Ian Balme is a New Zealand (NZ) farmer and former Waikato Regional Councillor who built a unique, successful tourism venture in the central North Island of NZ. Forgotten World Adventures allows visitors to explore the beautiful New Zealand countryside while self-driving along decommissioned railway lines, through tunnels, over bridges and rivers and through rural townships . Forgotten World Adventures uses innovative Rail Carts and, now, Rail Bikes over 142 km of a mothballed railway, offering one-day, two-day and multi-day tours. Customers engage in an experience, travelling the rail line through isolated, rugged landscapes to explore the unique Maori and pioneer history along the way. As Ian says, “we sell a Forgotten World experience, we don’t sell a golf cart trip down a railway line” . Forgotten World Adventures has been hugely successful, surpassing operating expectations in its very first year and winning several awards at the 2013 Westpac Taranaki Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards, including Best New Business .
It all started with a big idea: “When Ian Balme, farmer, former Waikato Regional councillor and keen outdoorsman, first saw the decommissioned Forgotten World rail line there was a spark of inspiration” . With a lot of hard work, and the right help, Ian turned the idea into a reality. A base governance team provided skills to get the needed planning in place for a 30 year lease from Kiwi Rail; and with the help of expert engineers, the Forgotten World rail carts were created.
Innovation and adaptability have been an ongoing theme in the success of Forgotten World Adventures. The carts have evolved over time, and more carts have been added to extend capacity. New experiences have been added too: “we realised we had limited capacity on the railway so we looked at other options and included a one-, two-, and four-day trip including two days jet boating on the river…. a premium product that sold out” . To appeal to a younger demographic, rail bikes have been added as well. The base technology for the rail bikes came from Tasmania, and was modified to suit. As Ian describes: “I shot down to Tasmania about 18 months ago and bought the technology for that rail bike from a guy…in Tasmania…we’ve considerably improved it and we think the experience here is probably going to outstrip our carts” . History and stories are an integral to the experience, and Ian has taken innovative steps to deepen this aspect of the customer experience: a journalist was hired to collect the old stories of the area and these stories were then depicted in signs along the rail line and in a booklet as well; and staff have been trained in story-telling too.
Customer feedback has always informed product development. Using a simple survey of only five questions, Ian gains vital insight into customer satisfaction. The information is vital because markets change, and the business must adapt to that change: “what’s really important from a business owner’s perspective is that you are always just watching and changing to what your clients demand” . The overall aim is to turn satisfied customers into ‘raving fans’ by doing something a little bit extraordinary because “a ‘raving fan’ goes away and promotes your business” .
Forgotten World Adventures seeks to integrate the business into the community, and community relations have in fact been important to the success of the venture. By investing in facilities and creating local jobs, Forgotten World Adventures has made a real difference for the local community; the business directly employs “about 26 people” making it “a reasonably significant employer in Whangamomona” . And Forgotten World Adventures has had a positive effect on other business activity too: “Whangamomona wasn’t all that flash when we started working there. I think there were three people working in the pub; there’s now eighteen…and now we’re getting a few stall holders turning up” . Furthermore, as a result of generous sponsorship of schools in the area, the community act as unofficial custodians of the rail line, ensuring the safety of the equipment along the line “because those people actually put a value on our business” . Furthermore, the local schools have also reciprocated directly by providing customer access to their Pet Days, which adds to the customer experience: “Our clients just can’t believe it when they can stop off and see the Pet Day….it’s very seldom our types of clients actually get to see that sort of thing” .
Forgotten World Adventures is an example of “product innovation” , both in respect to the initial entrepreneurial step in realizing the rail-based experience, and also in terms of the subsequent incremental innovations in product enhancement and extension. Furthermore, the way in which the business operates, in respect to its approach to sponsorship, and its integration into the local community evidences a degree of “process innovation” : specifically, by effectively engaging the community outside agencies are increasingly involved in the co-production of the customer experience.
Reid, S. R. M. (2015). “Forgotten World Adventures: product and process innovations in rail tours.” INNOTOUR Innovation Cases. from http://www.innotour.com/innovationCases/?p=3276
- Forgotten World Adventures. About Us. 2015 11 November 2015]; Available from: https://www.forgottenworldadventures.co.nz/framework/main.php?url=/about-us.
- Balme, I., Cocurrent Session: Product Development Innovation, in Newscorp Australia Tourism Innovation Conference. 2015: Cairns, Australia.
- TIANZ. Forgotten World Adventures. 2015 9 December 2015]; Available from: https://www.tianz.org.nz/main/Forgotten-World-Adventures/.
- Tidd, J. and J. Bessant, Managing innovation: integrating technological, market and organizational change. Fifth ed. 2013: John Wiley & Sons