Bungy co-founder: Let’s dig deep into risk-taking psche

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A chance meeting more than quarter of a century ago led to one of Queenstown’s – and New Zealand’s – most successful and innovative tourism companies.

Today that company, AJ Hackett Bungy, will mark its 25th anniversary but one of the brains behind it, Henry van Asch, says it is the next five or 10 years he is most excited about.

Mr van Asch said in the days before bungy he spent summers working on a farm near Christchurch and headed to Wanaka for the winter.

The second year of his Wanaka winter sojourn he drove down ”and thought I’d just leg it”.

Five minutes after he arrived, associates rode past on motorbikes and offered him a room in a house – with AJ Hackett.

”I went and met him and we became very firm friends quite quickly. We had a great relationship and that again is reflected 25 years down the track – we just appreciate each other’s company and how we think.”

The story of AJ Hackett Bungy is a Queenstown and New Zealand success story.

But the markets – and people – were changing and the company, rather than rest on its laurels, needed to understand those changes and how to satisfy them, Mr van Asch said.

Of key importance would be ”using our New Zealandness” and understanding what drove people to challenge themselves.

”I’m interested in that internal process people go through … [their] propensity to risk.

”We want to understand that.

”I’d like to establish an Institute of Personal Challenge where we’d work out why people take risks and why people do things – develop a deeper understanding of that.

”It’s an idea at the moment, but it’s been something [that’s interested] me for many years.”

By understanding what drives those commonly referred to as ”adrenaline junkies”, Mr van Asch hoped then to cater to them, which would benefit Queenstown and New Zealand as a whole.

Other significant changes had been shifts in the core markets for New Zealand – from the United Kingdom through the west, to Asia and the east, the advent of the digital age and the consumer’s desire to experience the remoteness of New Zealand.

With regard to the latter, AJ Hackett Bungy had the Skippers and Pipeline bungy sites ”sitting in the wings”.

The Skippers site is primarily used for special events, corporate conferences and filming, while the Pipeline site, established in 1994, ceased operating about 10 years ago.

”We’re going full circle to where we came from. The time is coming again for people to enjoy the remote locations and the fact it’s just over the saddle is amazing – it’s a wee hidden gem.”

Recently, the company reactivated its consent for a site behind Queenstown Hill, but Mr van Asch said there were no plans at present for a site there.

”We just need to keep that site effectively live to make sure we’re protected for the future.”

Mr van Asch said customers began wanting ”easier access to adventure” – but as adventure had evolved, they now wanted remote locations again.

Sites like the Pipeline enabled a full customer experience where they would be given a ”guided tour by staff.

”As the digital age has evolved, people’s access to information has changed dramatically … they come into the marketplace with much more information.

”We want to interpret that [for them] and bring some `New Zealandness’.

”It’s really exciting to be positioned as we are now.

”I’m more excited than I’ve been for a long time … the next five to 10 years I think we’re really poised to do some more special stuff with our team for visitors.”