R Tucker Thompson

Addressing seasonality

The R. Tucker Thompson has been running tourism experiences in the Bay of Islands since 1985.

The ship had a mighty reputation, sailing around the world in 1987 followed by several offshore voyages and providing tourism experiences in the Bay of Islands since 1985, but the organisation was stuck in a rut. Seasonality was a major issue, resulting in crew being hired for summer and the ship sitting idle for most of the winter, apart from a couple of annual voyages for youth at risk.

The builder and owner of the vessel needed a plan to reinvent and rejuvenate the organisation. So in 2006, the ship was transferred into a not-for-profit Trust, to be run independently by a board of Trustees. The goal was to create a sustainable organisation that would use the asset for a variety of activities, specifically to provide life changing experiences for young people over winter, using the tourism surpluses to support these goals.

This wasn’t without its challenges, with the GFC making the transition extremely difficult. However, by focusing on its long-term strategic vision, the R. Tucker Thompson is now in a strong position as a sustainable tourism operator and a recognised social enterprise.

Passengers are welcomed as guests and encouraged to be part of the crew for the day. They also get the chance to meet some of the teenage sail trainees, who are invited back on board over summer. Visitors get a real sense that their day on board (and money spent) has been for a good cause. The Trust actively seeks feedback on Facebook, TripAdvisor and other social media.

Busy year round

Financial results have been stable for the past five years. This has been achieved by adding new product for afternoon sailings, school sailings and special interests, as well as continuing to deliver a premium product for the regular day sail. Sixteen youth voyages are run during winter and the Trust subsidises these with the surplus from tourism, with grants and donations helping families in need.

This keeps the ship busy and provides all year round employment for crew. The surplus is sufficient for maintenance (also done by the crew), ensuring that the ship is now in better condition than when she was first launched.

And, as a sailing vessel with a proud tradition of environmental integrity, the Trust teaches the trainees about recycling, fish limits, pollution and the environment, to ensure the next generation looks after the Bay of Islands. 


Make sure you understand what drives the financials

  • Know where you want to get to and plan how to get there
  • Build a team of people who buy in to the vision
  • Do the right thing, be genuine and act with integrity
  • Sweat the asset – figure out ways to use it at the edges


Thanks to the R. Tucker Thompson for providing this case study. If you’ve got an inspiring sustainability story to share, please email info@tia.org.nz