You could say Queenstown-based Milford operator Southern Discoveries is practising a form of regenerative tourism.

After seven years as CEO, Tim Hunter, 65, this week stepped down in favour of next-generation Kerry Walker, though he’ll stay on-board a few more weeks to help with the transition.

Walker, however, is hardly inexperienced — she’s been Southern Discoveries’ sales and marketing GM for the past four-and-a-half years, and for 15 years prior had sales and marketing roles with Ngai Tahu Tourism.

She certainly has her predecessor’s back.

‘‘Kerry is, commercially, extremely astute, she understands our business really well,’’ Hunter says.

‘‘Given her previous involvement in tourism in operational roles, she gets on very well with the operational side of the business, and all the people in our management team are delighted we’ve made this decision.’’

Hunter, who earlier had senior roles with former tourism giant Mount Cook Group, Tourism New Zealand and Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism, says he’s looking forward to fishing, cycling and reading books in his retirement, and having his weekends back.

For himself and his management team, Covid, in particular, was exhausting, he says.

‘‘One of the silver linings about Covid is we learnt a hell of a lot about the domestic market — [for example] international tourists travel on our boats and they eat food but Kiwis travel on our boats and eat heaps of food.’’

Queenstown tourism has pretty much already recovered from Covid and, Hunter estimates, Milford is 70 % back, ‘‘which is amazing, because if you asked us a year ago we’d say ‘no way’.’’

The company’s increasing Milford focus explains why it’s conditionally sold its Spirit of Queenstown catamaran to RealNZ, Walker says.

However, she notes they still have two Queenstown info centres and also base their coach operation here.

Speaking of coaches, Hunter says the company’s been ahead of its time when it comes to carbon-zero tourism.

‘‘In 2016-17, we purchased the Euro 6 buses — you’re talking about being able to get to Milford and back on one quarter of the amount of fuel someone in a rental car uses.’’

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