Meet Sandrine from Antipodes Travel
New Zealand isn’t her birthplace, but Sandrine Dizerens has been singing its praises since moving there in 2002. A love for the deep south of New Zealand saw the Swiss French national settle in Dunedin for its vibrancy and fantastic wildlife.
Using her background in communications and events, she soon began writing travel guides to help other French speakers keen to explore New Zealand’s beauty. “I realised that there were more and more French people who wanted to visit New Zealand and a lot of them don’t speak English well enough to be able to organise a tour.”
When she met her now husband, Yoann, in Auckland, his passion for travel, photography and the outdoors perfectly complemented her New Zealand tourism experience and Antipodes Travel was born.
The boutique travel agency founded in 2004 crafts itineraries for French-speaking Free and Independent Travellers (FITs) and groups, designed exclusively for them. “We organise tours for people with special interests such as photographers, singing groups, rugby groups, wine and spirit makers, volcanologists, geologists, birdwatchers, the list goes on,” Sandrine says.
“I think French people really like connecting with people, they want to have a better understanding of the place. And I love that part. It’s not just booking hotels, it’s also experience. It’s this idea of not only seeing things but being immersed in the country and with the people and having a more meaningful holiday.
“Our knowledge and expertise are really our forte. It’s knowing the amazing activities people will love, the bed and breakfasts and lodges where our clients will meet the locals. And we also offer assistance in French in the country, if needed. We are known to really look after our clients”.
Tourwriter on the team
Determined to mitigate the company’s growing pains, Sandrine and Yoann introduced tour operator software Tourwriter in 2015 to ensure greater efficiencies across their business.
They used the pause of Covid, when New Zealand’s borders were closed, to upload their database to Tourwriter’s new product, connecting with and updating suppliers as they refreshed the data.
“Tourwriter has permitted us to streamline our work and to assemble our suppliers and their rates in one, accessible place,” said Sandrine.
“One of the main advantages with the move is that it is a really simple process for suppliers to accept your bookings and update in real time. I love sending these booking requests all together, you go ‘click’, you breathe, and you have your cup of coffee, and then you receive all the answers.”
With her husband Yoann often out taking the tours, and with staff based in Dunedin, Christchurch, Auckland and Australia, Sandrine also likes the ease of working remotely with Tourwriter.
“Before COVID we were lucky to be able to go back to France each year for three months, and we could work from there. So having a system like Tourwriter is great for lifestyle.”
“I’m a strong advocate of Tourwriter. I think it’s a great product. I think they understand how we work. I’m always giving ideas of things to improve, and in every update they amend things that were on our lists of improvements. So that’s good. And the support is great, they’re always here to help.”
And, Sandrine notes, it’s so user friendly, she has even trained her nearly 13-year-old daughter on it. “She found it very easy. But she said ‘Mum, I have to check out all these hotels that you’re putting in your itineraries!’”
New horizons in the future
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Sandrine says she is optimistic for the future. While New Zealand’s borders were closed, Antipodes Travel stayed connected with the market through online stories showcasing New Zealand – activity which has since converted into business.
A photography workshop initiated by Yoann for the domestic market during lockdown is another tour idea the team wants to develop, offering photography-based itineraries in New Zealand and in Australia. There are also plans to come up with new tours for active seniors and women, and to organise more intimate weddings and honeymoon tours after their experience planning some wonderful wildlife-themed weddings before the pandemic.
They’re also seeing an increase in people wanting walking adventures taking in New Zealand’s stunning scenery and have just launched a new 18-day active small group tour. Sandrine notes: “I’ve designed this tour for my ability and I’m not a super tramper! But our first tour of the year is full already so we’re very, very happy.”
Antipodes Travel has expanded to cover trips in Australia and the Pacific Islands – New Caledonia, Fiji, French Polynesia – and Sandrine says this is another area where they hope to grow.“ As word of mouth grew, clients began asking ‘do you do Australia?’ Initially, we were like ‘Of course, easy peasy!’ But now we have someone based in Australia and she’s wonderful, very experienced and looking after our clients there. We’ve tried to find different products, more niche, a lot of Aboriginal experiences and a bit of walking as well – it’s all about experiencing something new.”