Kiwi tourism operator’s new guided tour business supports the art environment

White Glove Experiences organizes art walks around Parnell to explore creative arenas, key attractions and street art. Photo / Delivered

After studying art in Sydney and Auckland, Jacqui Wilkinson began a career in advertising.

Then one day, after having had enough of long business hours, she decided that if she was going to work so hard, she would rather work for herself. Her first travel company, Adventure Capital and Fine Art Tours NZ, was launched before Covid. From the pandemic, White Glove Experiences was born.

I first interviewed you five years ago, and Adventure Capital really took off …

The business grew at a phenomenal rate. We launched new products, including e-bike rides in Rangitoto, then came Covid, and it all literally disappeared overnight. People who are not in tourism find it difficult to get their heads around, but when the borders closed, our market disappeared completely.

What percentage of your customer base was international?

Fine Art Tours was 100 percent international, and Adventure Capital was more than 90 percent, so we tried to think of ways to focus on the domestic market, but it was a matter of numbers. Adventure Capital was also based in truly urban environments strategically chosen for the international market, but the locals do not visit these places, so we shut down completely to get rid of overhead.

Did you think about enduring until things normalized?

Tourism will never go back to how it was. The world is different and people want to travel differently, but we’ll see how the next few months unfold.

How did you reinvent yourself?

There was no way for us to turn around, and when people could travel again, the locals went to the classic tourist areas, such as Northland and the Bay of Plenty. Aucklanders flocked to the beaches, but no one came to Auckland. So we invented something completely new, and White Glove Experiences was born.

Jacqui Wilkinson of White Glove Experiences, an Auckland-based travel company offering guided art-themed tours.  Photo / Delivered
Jacqui Wilkinson of White Glove Experiences, an Auckland-based travel company offering guided art-themed tours. Photo / Delivered

How would you describe the concept?

We took some items from Fine Art Tours NZ, and used them to experiment with the domestic market. I tested out some local events in October 2020, based on art and culture. Even though we did not have the money to market ourselves, people reacted very positively and we got good word of mouth telegraphs. We now have a growing database of locals who support all our events, including some fantastic superfans.

What do the events involve?

We open up the art scene for everyone. We do things like day trips to West Auckland and show people the amazing art sites out there like McCahon House, Te Uru Gallery in Titirangi and Corban Estate Arts Center in Henderson. They are such gems, but many Aucklanders have never been to them. We also organize art walks around Parnell and on Karangahape Rd, to look at creative arenas, important attractions and street art. These tours are always sold out.

We have held four community events in Howick, with the intention of showcasing an unsung neighborhood. Many have heard of Howick, but they have never been there. More than 100 people have turned up. Most had never visited Howick before, and in the end many participants said they would come back with friends because it is such a cool place.

How do you see White Glove Experiences evolving?

It started as an experiment to see if the locals would support what we do, and they have, so we want to continue, to build our database and offer more regular events and programs. We fill a unique niche, with our customers telling us that they love how we have demystified the art scene.

Did art play a role in your own personal recovery during this difficult time?

I studied art at university, majoring in printing and painting, so a good thing about the last two years is that I have returned to a regular art practice. I’m excited about the prospect of exhibiting. I’ve done a couple of group shows this year and also have a couple of solo shows.

I did not have time to paint when Adventure Capital was in full swing, so it has been wonderful to have time to paint, to be busy you can lose sight of your passions. My home office also serves as a studio, and during the shutdowns, painting became my secret pleasure.

Did you have any other tricks to keep the sunny side up?

I have been interested in personal development since my teens. Before people talked about mindfulness, I had a routine of morning training, gratitude and breathing. I call it my “up and go” routine.

Sounds like a good basis for an event.

I’ve actually teamed up with a qualified science-based mindfulness facilitator, and we’re planning a two-day event at Castaways on Karioitahi Beach, suitable for beginners and those with some meditation experience. We also have another event at Castaways, a two-day art workshop, and we are planning overnight trips to Whangārei, to see the new Hundertwasser art center.

How do you feel about the future?

I do not expect it to go back to how it was, but I feel good. International visitors return, domestic opportunities look strong, but there is a long way to go. People have had a hard time, so it’s nice to focus on nice things, and for me it’s working with White Glove Experiences and doing my art.

White Glove Experiences offers small group events focusing on art, culture and exploration.

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