The Kiwi Tourism Company’s new guided tour business supports the arts community

White Glove Experiences organizes art walks around Parnell to see creative places, major landmarks and street art. Photo / Included

After studying art in Sydney and Auckland, Jacqui Wilkinson embarked on a career in advertising.

Then one day, after getting fed up with long hours at the company, she decided that if she worked that hard, she’d rather work for herself. Their first tourism companies, Adventure Capital and Fine Art Tours NZ, were established before Covid. Out of the pandemic, White Glove Experiences was born.

I first interviewed you five years ago and Adventure Capital really took off…

The business grew at phenomenal speed. We launched new products including e-bike tours of Rangitoto, then Covid came and it all went away literally overnight. People not involved in tourism have a hard time finding their way around, but when the borders closed our market disappeared completely.

What proportion of your customer base was international?

Fine Art Tours was 100 percent international and Adventure Capital was over 90 percent international, so we tried to focus on the domestic market, but it was a matter of numbers. Also, Adventure Capital was set in truly urban settings that were strategically chosen for the international market, but locals don’t visit those places, so we closed down completely to get rid of the overhead.

Have you thought about holding out until things get back to normal?

Tourism will never be the same again. The world is different and people will travel differently, but we’ll see how the next few months unfold.

How did you reinvent yourself?

There was no way for us to turn around, and once people were able to travel again, locals headed to classic tourism hotspots like Northland and Bay of Plenty. Aucklanders flocked to the beaches, but no one came to Auckland. So we invented something completely new and White Glove Experiences was born.

Jacqui Wilkinson of White Glove Experiences, an Auckland-based tourism company offering art-themed tours.  Photo / Included
Jacqui Wilkinson of White Glove Experiences, an Auckland-based tourism company offering art-themed tours. Photo / Included

How would you describe the concept?

We took some elements from Fine Art Tours NZ and used them to experiment with the domestic market. I tested some local events around arts and culture in October 2020. Although we had no money to market ourselves, people responded very positively and we got great word of mouth. Now we have a growing database of locals supporting all of our events including some amazing super fans.

What do the events include?

We open the art scene to everyone. We do things like day trips to West Auckland and show people the amazing artistic places out there like McCahon House, Te Uru Gallery in Titirangi and Corban Estate Arts Center in Henderson. They are such gems but many Aucklanders have never been inside them. We also organize art walks around Parnell and on Karangahape Rd to see creative places, major landmarks and street art. These hikes are always sold out.

We held four community events in Howick with the intention of showcasing an unfamiliar neighborhood. A lot of people have heard of Howick, but they’ve never been there. More than 100 people came along. Most had never visited Howick before and in the end many attendees said they would return with friends because it’s such a cool place.

How do you see the development of White Glove Experiences?

It started as an experiment to see if local people would support our work and they have to, so we want to go ahead, build our database and offer more regular events and programs. We fill a unique niche in having our clients tell us they love how we’ve demystified the art scene.

Has art contributed to your very personal recovery during this difficult time?

I studied fine arts at university, majoring in printmaking and painting. The good thing about the last two years is that I have returned to a regular art practice. I look forward to the prospect of exhibiting. I’ve done a few group shows this year and have a few solo shows planned as well.

I didn’t have time to paint when Adventure Capital was in full swing so having time to paint was wonderful because when you’re busy you can lose sight of your passions. My home office doubles as a studio and painting has become my secret pleasure throughout lockdown.

Did you have any other tricks for staying on the bright side?

I have been interested in personal development since my youth. Before people started talking about mindfulness, I had a routine of morning exercises, gratitude, and breathing. I call it my “up and go” routine.

That sounds like a good basis for an event.

I’ve actually partnered with a qualified science-based mindfulness coach and we’re planning a two-day event at Castaways on Karioitahi Beach that’s suitable for beginners and those with some meditation experience. We also have another event at Castaways, a two day art workshop and we are planning overnight trips to Whang─ürei to see the new Hundertwasser Art Centre.

How do you think about the future?

I don’t expect it to go back to how it was, but I feel good. International visitors are returning, domestic opportunities are looking good, but it’s a long road to recovery. People were having a hard time so it’s nice to focus on pleasant things and for me that’s working on White Glove Experiences and my art.

White Glove Experiences offer small group events with a focus on arts, culture and exploration.