Dominion Post / April 2017

Backstage Pass to the whole world.

Tucked away in a bustling New York clothing store is an underground whiskey bar you access from a secret door in the changing rooms.

Meanwhile, in a small 17th century village in Southern France, a well-respected chef forages for wild mushrooms in the countryside before cooking a meal at his family home.

Back in New Zealand, a chartered aircraft flies a group of people to Queenstown for breakfast, then Taupo for dinner.

These are the experiences business partners Carlene Staines and Greg Norris can make happen. OneNineFive (named after the number of countries in the world) offers group travel, mostly for corporate incentive programmes, where employers will reward staff, or clients, by sending them on trips.

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The company was started by Norris five years ago, after he left CluedUp, an events and team building business. "After about 10 years of that, I got really restless and needed a change...[and] with a need to do something out on my own at that point, I left the old business," 
Norris said.

The company offers group travel experiences for parties of up to 250 people. OneNineFive's point of difference was organising day-to-day activities that could not be bought in a travel shop, Norris said. "We love the main streets, but we love the side streets even more because that's where you start to really experience what a destination is and what people are about... "It needs to feel like you couldn't have gone into a shop and bought this experience."

Norris went on a culinary expedition with celebrity chef Al Brown to Southern France to meet respected French chef Stephane Reynaud, where they searched the countryside for wild mushrooms, before cooking lunch at his family home. "We like to do things where you feel like you're slightly under the radar," Norris said.

Norris and Staines travel to the destination prior to the group to scout the best spots, he said. "We'll go there, in the season that they are going to travel and put the jigsaw together. Find the interesting operators you wouldn't normally hear about, ask chefs where they go for dinner, ask someone in hospitality where the best late-night bar is."

One of the biggest challenges was selling the experience - the destination was the easy part, Norris said. "How do you sell experiential travel? People see a travel reward as what airline are we going with, what time does it leave and how many days are we going to be away. "That's all cool but sometimes it's hard to sell our proposition." 

Another challenge was time. "Time to be away to design, and then be away to deliver, and also secured pipeline work. We are at that stage where we haven't yet had the problem of having to be in two places at once, but it's really close, it's going to happen."

The company hosts about 10 trips a year, of which six are in New Zealand. The next step was to employ bring more people on board to help the business grow, he said.