Thursday, August 24, 2006

Dolphins watch tours, a winning combination for New Zealand's tourism industry

The Tourism Industry Association of New Zealand (TIA) praised Dan and Amy Engelhaupt for their business which combines ecotourism and scientific research in the Marlborough Sounds.

Dolphin Watch Ecotours was announced winner of the Innovation in Ecotourism section of the TIA Awards at a celebration dinner in Wellington last night.

Mr and Mrs Engelhaupt said today they were delighted with the win. They were up against other finalists Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa and Whare Kea Chalet.

"We are so unique in what we do. It's nice to have some way to back that up. Something so people recognise we mean business. That we are what we say we are," said Mrs Engelhaupt.

The American couple met while studying marine biology at university in Texas. Mrs Engelhaupt focused on photo identification of bottle nose dolphins in her masters in Texas and Mr Engelhaupt later focused on genetic research of sperm whales for his doctorate in the United Kingdom.

They came to Marlborough when Mrs Engelhaupt led a research team studying dolphins off Kaikoura and bought their Picton-based company in 2002 with a plan to use it as a platform to finance and aid research of dolphins in the Marlborough Sounds.

As well as providing an educational commentary and the opportunity for tourists to ask question of experts on their tours, the Engelhaupts use each trip to gather more data and photographs.
The Engelhaupts said they were surprised at the detail of the judge's examination when they visited them in Picton in July, but pleased to know the process was taken seriously.

At the ceremony last night Northland dive company Dive! Tutukaka was awarded the supreme tourism prize. The company was started six years ago and now transports more than 12,000 people each year to dive, snorkel, kayak or sightsee at the Poor Knights Island, 25 kilometres off Northland's east coast.

Fiona Luhrs, chief executive of the Tourism Industry Association which manages the awards, said this year's awards had set a new benchmark for business excellence within the industry.

Entries are evaluated under the Baldridge business excellence process, a systematic approach to assessing and scoring finalists. Distinction awards were presented to companies that had won three awards in the business category in the past six years.

One was awarded to the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa, which won the Visitor Attraction sub-category this year and a place in the awards Tourism Hall of Fame.

New Zealand tourism arrivals have doubled since 1994 to 2.38 million visitors and tourism contributed $7.4 billion to the economy in the year ended March 2004, or 18.5 percent of exports, according to TIA.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"