Archive for December, 2015

Forgotten World Adventures: product and process innovation in rail tours

Friday, December 11th, 2015

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 [3]. 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” [2]. 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 [3].

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” [1]. 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” [2]. 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” [2]. 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” [2]. 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” [2].

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” [2]. 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” [2]. 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” [2]. 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” [2].

Forgotten World Adventures is an example of “product innovation” [4], 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” [4]: specifically, by effectively engaging the community outside agencies are increasingly involved in the co-production of the customer experience.


By Stuart R M Reid

Recommended Citation:

Reid, S. R. M. (2015). “Forgotten World Adventures: product and process innovations in rail tours.” INNOTOUR Innovation Cases. from



  1. Forgotten World Adventures. About Us. 2015  11 November 2015]; Available from:
  2. Balme, I., Cocurrent Session: Product Development Innovation, in Newscorp Australia Tourism Innovation Conference. 2015: Cairns, Australia.
  3. TIANZ. Forgotten World Adventures. 2015  9 December 2015]; Available from:
  4. Tidd, J. and J. Bessant, Managing innovation: integrating technological, market and organizational change. Fifth ed. 2013: John Wiley & Sons

Palya Art: product innovation in cultural tourism

Saturday, December 5th, 2015

Helen Read is a pioneer in the field of Australian Aboriginal art and cultural tourism. She is the founder and director of Palya Art and Palya Art Tours. Helen’s aim is to help improve cross cultural understanding and bring an income to artists and their families in remote communities [1]. Through Payla Art Tours, Helen seeks to enhance the enjoyment and understanding of Indigenous art and facilitate a better understanding of Australian Indigenous cultures. By promoting cross-cultural interaction through the arts, Helen strives to improve community life and the well-being of indigenous Australians.

Through Payla Art, Helen has taken Indigenous Australian art around the world with exhibitions curated from remote area art centres, and touring exhibitions from her own collection [1,2]. Palya Art presents exceptional collections of artworks which are sold for, and on behalf of, indigenous Australian artists [2]. As Founder and Director of Palya Art Tours, Helen also provides access to remote communities and forges interactions with artists, cultural custodians and community Art Centres [1,2]. Palya Art Tours provides tours to isolated indigenous communities in northern Australia, in cooperation with indigenous community councils and artists [2]. The tours are designed for people with an interest in Aboriginal art, offering the chance to meet the artists and discuss the meaning behind their striking and diverse artworks, and gain insight into their unique culture [1,2].

Palya Art Tours has introduced thousands of people to Indigenous people’s diverse cultures, country and to the custodians through whom Aboriginal art springs [1]. The tours bring people with means, skills and influence out to meet Indigenous artists in mutually respectful circumstances – visitors span policy makers, medical researchers, philanthropists, academics, art collectors, journalists, institutions, curators and gallery keepers [1,2].

Helen’s tours bring much-needed income to the communities through art sales, and significant artworks continue to be placed into institutions for public viewing both in Australia and abroad. The fundamental guiding principle is empowerment: “to increase the resources in communities so that people… can choose to maintain traditional cultural ways or go the dominant cultural way or have both. It’s about having a choice.” [3 circa 20:45]

Palya Art Tours is an example of “product innovation” [4]: Helen’s tours deliver a unique visitor experience by forging links between art, culture and place. It is also an example of “paradigm innovation” [4] in reflecting a fundamental shift to sustainable tourism. When local stakeholders are disempowered, tourism is not sustainable. By operating from a basis of cultural respect, and sensitivity to the needs of local stakeholders, the underlying mental model of Palya Art Tours is one of sustainability. That is, by respecting cultural values as the starting point in the delivery of tourism experiences, Palya Art Tours empowers indigenous artists and communities to determine how tourism occurs, and how they benefit from it.

By Stuart R M Reid



  1. Read, H. Helen Read. LinkedIn 2015  3 December 2015]; Available from:
  2. Payla Art. Palya Art. 2015  3 December 2015]; Available from:
  3. Read, H., Pioneer of Aboriginal art tours, Helen Read, in Radio National: Books and Arts. 2015, Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  4. Tidd, J. and J. Bessant, Managing innovation: integrating technological, market and organizational change. 5th ed. 2013: John Wiley & Sons.

 Recommended Citation:

Reid, S. R. M. (2015). “Palya Art Tours: product innovation in cultural tourism.” INNOTOUR Innovation Cases. from

Margaret River Discovery Company: a case of marketing innovation

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Sean Blocksidge is the owner-operator of the Margaret River Discovery tours. Touted as “the tour for people who don’t do tours” [1] Sean’s outdoor food and wine adventure builds on the concept of “terroir”, which is a French term broadly relating to ‘sense of place and relating to the environmental factors affecting the characteristics of crops such as winegrapes. Sean’s food and wine experience includes activities linked to the local geology, climate and environment of Margaret River. In 2010, Sean won Western Australian Guide of the Year. His tours have been rated the #1 thing to do in Australia on the Tripadvisor website for the past two years. But it wasn’t always that way; in fact, at one point Sean was on the verge of closing his business, until social media came to the rescue:

“I started in August 2008 at the beginning of the Global Financial Crisis and I got to the September in the first year and I was done…within a week of closing the doors. … and somewhere along the way I must’ve had three or four couples come out and write some rather nice reviews on TripAdvisor…. Anyway, the algorithms…spun me up to the number one thing to do at Margaret River and the next morning my phone and email went absolutely nuts…I never looked back.” [2]

After wasting tens and thousands of dollars on marketing and advertising, Sean now relies entirely on social media and spends zero dollars on advertising. His reach is massive and his business is now successful: “I’m fully booked most days of the year and I spend zero dollars on advertising” [2].

Now, he literally spends only fifteen minutes a day on social media marketing: “one minute to take a photo; two minutes to import it, process it and export it; one minute to upload it to Facebook…auto link to Twitter – zero minutes…seconds to re-post it to Instagram; and I’ll occasionally do a post on my blog….so we’re up to about five minutes…. Then I’ll go back and have a bit of a look at what people have put on there and respond to that…All that in only fifteen minutes” [2].

According to Sean “a tourism brand is largely built by the stories people share by word-of-mouth and on social media” [2]. Sean’s philosophy of ‘plus one’ is about “doing what you normally do and doing something just a little beyond that” [2] because delivering ‘plus one’ experiences “is what ignites peoples’ advocacy” [2], and this drives social media marketing results. To encourage customers to share content in their social networks, Sean sends selected customers photos from their tour, with a message that invites them to share those images with friends. As Sean says: “The easiest and most successful ‘plus one’ I can do is take a few pictures of my guests…send that to them and encourage them to share” [2].

Sean relies entirely on social media to build a tribe of followers that drive traffic to his website, and business. He uses Hootsuite to manage and monitor his social media activity. Hootsuite is an app that allows users to schedule unlimited messages for future publishing across social media platforms; track what people are saying, and measure the impact of social media activity. Facebook is Sean’s main tool: he uploads a photo on Facebook every day using hashtags # to auto link to Twitter and Instagram – Sean links all his images to Tourism Australia or See Australia.

Interesting and good quality images are critical. Sean uses images about his tour experience as well as images of interesting things in the general area. Astonishing results can come from a single image: Sean related a story about how one of his photos of wildflowers was picked up in a New York Times story and he was cited as an expert on Western Australian wildflowers; and two US journalists later visited to do a story about his business! So Sean says “never underestimate the power of a good image!” [2]. Consistency is vital too: as Sean says, “it has got to be a daily push” [2]. As for timing, Sean has found that uploading images on Sunday afternoons or after 8pm is better for pickup in the networks.

When it comes to TripAdvisor, Sean stresses that the key is to “respond to reviews, especially negative reviews” [2]. He acknowledges that it can be hard to get negative feedback on TripAdvisor, but stresses that the right response “can turn a negative review into a positive” [2].

For businesses struggling to get involved in social media, Sean’s advice is to make time to get involved or get someone to do it for you. Quite often the necessary skills will already exist in-house, so “look around inside your business because your own staff will often already have the skills” [1].

In this case, the move from traditional advertising to reliance on social media represents a form on new-to-firm innovation in the realm of marketing. The case highlights how social media offers a great opportunity to market tourism businesses in a cost-effective way. With the rise of the digital savvy generation, all tourism businesses need to use social media channels as an essential component in marketing.

By Stuart R. M. Reid


  1. Blocksidge, S. (2015). “Margaret River Discovery Co.: Home.” Retrieved 25 November 2015, from
  2. Blocksidge, S., Cocurrent Session: Digitial Innovation for Beginners, in Newscorp Australia Tourism Innovation Conference. 6 November 2015: Cairns, Australia.


Recommended Citation:

Reid, S. R. M. (2015). “Margaret River Discovery Company: a case of marketing innovation.” INNOTOUR Innovation Cases. from