Funding recipient up for sale

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A big Queenstown beneficiary of the government’s controversial ‘strategic tourism assets’ funding is for sale for about $4 million.

Outback New Zealand – trading as Nomad Safaris, Info & Track and Info & Snow – was last year awarded a $500,000 grant plus a $1 million loan in Covid relief funding.

The $270m package was controversial after Queenstown’s AJ Hackett Bungy got a $5.1m grant and a loan for the same amount while others missed out – the auditor-general’s looking into the “the clarity and transparency of the programme’s criteria”.

Outback NZ managing director David Gatward-Ferguson says if he sold tomorrow, he’d return the loan and probably wouldn’t get the final-quarter installment of his grant, which is due in August.

The funding, he adds, has helped keep his business going and kept his staff of eight full-timers and eight part-timers employed.

“Otherwise we’d have had to hibernate most parts of the business and just kept the bare minimum going, back to where we started 27 years ago with me doing the driving and [his wife and co-owner] Amanda doing everything else.”

Despite this, he still maintains the funding process was “appalling”.

“Like a lot of people, we nearly didn’t apply because the main condition was you had to have exhausted all other means of funding, and we decided we weren’t going to sell our family home.”

As to why they’re selling, Gatward-Ferguson says they’d intended to do that in February last year, “but [Covid] events overtook us”.

He and Amanda have a “slightly mentally-challenged” son, who doesn’t like to leave the house, “so we want to move to a small business we can just operate from home”.

Last year they’d also bought a craft gin and vodka business, Wild Diamond, to give their son a work opportunity.

“If we don’t sell Nomad Safaris now, I’m pursuing a couple of opportunities to make it bigger.”

Local Tourism Properties.com broker Adrian Chisholm is marketing the business widely, and 30 prospective buyers have registered their interest, he says.

“We are in discussion with several parties.”

Encouragingly, he’s aware banks are again lending money for tourism and hospitality businesses after pulling their horns due to Covid.

Chisholm say it’s very seldom a company with a 27-year trading history, “and such an iconic tourism product”, comes to market.

“The vendors have spent 27 years sweating blood to build that business, and some astute buyer can build on it and take it to the next level.”

scoop@scene.co.nz