Local manager buys iFly skydiving from US owners
"A longtime Queenstown tourism operator has so much faith in the town and its ability to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic that he’s put his money where his mouth is.
Local couple Matt and Amy Wong have bought Queenstown’s iFLY from its American owners to secure local ownership of the country’s first indoor skydiving centre.
Matt Wong (43) has been the general manager of the business since its launch in late 2018 and believes the time’s right to become its owner while continuing a successful partnership with iFLY globally.
“iFLY began as part of an international chain designed to simulate the freefall of skydiving in a controlled indoor environment and in its first year was primarily attracting international visitors who were here on holiday,” he said.
“The pandemic changed all that so we had to make some fast decisions to better cater for our locals and domestic visitors. Thankfully it’s worked well and has created a great opportunity for us to keep the business locally-owned and operated going forward.”
Wong has spent almost 20 years in Queenstown’s tourism and travel sector, holding senior roles with Ngāi Tahu Tourism, outbound travel agencies and i-SITE Visitor Centre Network.
When he moved to iFLY, the new $15 million wind tunnel located on the Brecon St approach to Queenstown’s Skyline Gondola was expected to be popular with the 3.3 million-plus international visitors due to visit the town in 2020.
Instead, as New Zealand closed its borders, Wong and his team changed the business model almost overnight, seeking ways to make the thrill of indoor skydiving more affordable and accessible to Kiwis.
“We can cater for children as young as five to people in their 90s so we worked on tailoring our activities to be more flexible and accessible for all ages and abilities and highlighting iFLY as a great all-weathers experience,” Wong said.
Key changes included gearing towards domestic visitors who prefer to fly at weekends and holidays and want flexibility as well as outstanding value and service, as well as creating innovative new weekday revenue opportunities. These included educational programmes for science, technology, tourism and business students, and developing a strong market for sports skydivers to train more efficiently and in all weathers.
“Tunnel flying is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world, with its own global leagues and events. Our wind tunnel enhances skills which are directly transferable to traditional skydiving and are more economical and safer for sports skydivers of all skill levels,” said Wong.
iFLY has been a success story in 2020 in a tourism industry which has been badly disrupted globally by COVID-19, with Wong saying the Queenstown business performed well in 2020 compared to 80 others owned around the world by international owners Sky Venture International.
“Having made some significant changes to the business, we’ve had to back ourselves and make the most of the opportunities. It certainly hasn’t been easy and we’ve a long way to go but Amy and I are convinced the business has a great future which is why we’ve taken it on.
“We’ve been fortunate to have kept all of our staff throughout the pandemic and we’re really grateful for their professionalism, dedication, and support through these tough times. It means a lot to us that they’re ecstatic about the news because it’s going to be a huge opportunity and challenge. But being Queenstown locals for almost two decades, it’s always been our dream to own a business we love in a tight-knit supportive community while we raise our young family so we’re totally up for it.”
UK-based iFLY International CEO Simon Ward will step down as a director while continuing to support and foster the partnership in an advisory capacity. Josh Easby and Matt Wong remain as the incumbent directors."