Queenstown innovators benefit from $54m funding pot for tourism projects

by Kim Bowden - May 01, 2023

A tech-savvy tourism business dreamed up by three Central Otago locals reckons it can provide an answer to staff shortages, and it has just received a kickstart from the government to further develop its idea.

Tourism Technology and Innovation Ltd was founded by Ziptrek executive director Trent Yeo, iFly owner and Queenstown Lakes District Councillor Matt Wong and Southern Software’s Duncan Faulkner. 

The trio has secured $25,000 from the government’s $54 million Innovation Programme for Tourism Recovery.

Duncan Faulkner (right) reveals a tech-savvy solution to booking holiday experiences, a prototype of which is being successfully trialled at iFly.

Their business idea seeks to help visitors book experiences easily using new smart technologies, but they are staying tight-lipped on the specifics for now.

“At this stage we are unable to share further details about the project as it is commercially sensitive, but can confirm we have working prototypes and significant industry interest,” Mr Faulkner says.

Crux can confirm the company has an early prototype of its booking system up and running at the iFly.

“It reduces the reliance on front line staff being available to take bookings from visitors by showcasing the iFly products and availability in real time. Customers can place their own bookings without waiting in line," Mr Faulkner says.

“The staff love it because they can focus on flying with customers instead of manning the desk.” 

Rather than doing someone out of a job, Mr Faulkner says the technology can help businesses prioritise staff resources and ensure they don’t miss out on bookings.

“Post Covid there is a huge issue with staff shortages which means businesses miss out on bookings when there aren’t enough staff to process them. 

“It’s one of many ways we plan to make the industry more resilient and profitable.”

Since the $54 million funding pot for projects with the potential to transform aspects of the tourism industry opened in November, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has approved 12 applications for 'Stream One' of the programme, which aims to fund feasibility work before potential full development support from 'Stream Two'.

Mr Faulkner says his business will also be applying for Stream Two funding, with a view its technology will have wider scale applications across the country.

Applicants in this second stage can request between $100,000 and $10 million and must co-fund at least 50 percent. 

"A series A investment round will be opened next month, and anyone interested in investing can contact me," Mr Faulkner says.

The tourism tech company forecasts 34 new jobs will be created in the Queenstown Lakes within three years with opportunities for locals to invest in the company.

Another Central Otago venture is also among the select group so far to have been announced as successful applicants to the fund - Hillocks Holdings Ltd has received $25,000.

Details of Hillocks Holdings Ltd are scarce, but according to industry publication Tourism Ticker entrepreneurs Jeremy Railton from Arrowtown and Gerhard Seiber from Glenorchy are behind the venture, which is focused on a "virtual experiences project". 

MBIE's David Talbot says successful Stream One applicants are working on feasibility studies for their ideas.

"We aren’t providing comment or specifics about the projects for commercial sensitivity reasons."

So far, six of the 12 successful applications for funding from the programme have been announced, with the total committed so far being $140,150.

The fund was unveiled at Budget 2022, and MBIE expects a significant proportion of the $54 million will be divvied up between successful Stream Two projects later this year.

MBIE and an advisory panel are assessing applications for the tourism minister to approve.

Main image (Facebook/iFly)


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