After picking herself and her tourism business up after the quakes, the Covid crisis came as a shock to Angelika Pastoors.
Fighting for survival is something Angelika Pastoors has had to do more than once.
When the earthquakes struck Christchurch, Pastoors’ partly-renovated house was redzoned and in the settlement and insurance battle that followed, she feared “losing everything”.
Each morning she would wake to the sound of her neighbours’ homes being demolished around her.
At the same time, the earthquakes brought a sudden halt to her 10-year-old tour guiding business Sidetracks, as overseas tourists stopped coming.
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Sidetracks offers South Island hiking and cycling tours for speakers of German, Pastoors’ native tongue.
“After the earthquakes, people thought the whole of New Zealand was destroyed, not just Christchurch.”
She reshaped the business by adding tours in Germany as well as New Zealand, counteracting the drop-off in tourists to Christchurch and keeping revenue coming in.
At the same time, Pastoors battled through her redzoning situation. She did her own legal research, obtained a settlement on her house, and eventually got resettled in a new home.
Things were fine until the Covid crisis arrived and the tourist sector was blindsided for a second time.
“I thought: I cannot believe this. I knew this was a disaster for tourism,” she says.
The Government is pouring millions into tourism businesses hit by the prolonged border closure.
“It was a shock when I heard the borders could be closed for months. It meant losing all our business here and in Germany.”
Sidetracks’ tours are lead by Pastoors as well as three guides working on contract.
The business received the 12-week Covid wage subsidy which ended in June, but it does not qualify for the current subsidy because of the seasonal nature of its income.
Pastoors, who is 63 and considers herself “half-Kiwi, half-German”, knew she could start again. Because she had to.
“You never give up. That’s hard if you’re feeling frustrated or depressed. I think: ‘how can I go on, what should I do now?’
“I had to come up with an idea. I could not accept that I had to fold. I discussed it with my staff, discussed it with myself, and started researching.”
From her guiding experience of 25 years in New Zealand plus years in her native Germany, she was aware of demand for guided outdoor tours for women. It looked like a niche in the domestic market.
“A lot of women over 30, want to be outdoors but have a big fear of being the slowest or unfittest.
“Often they’d love to have a go at something. But then they don’t know where to start. Or they don’t have someone to do it with and wouldn’t feel safe on their own.”
By June, Pastoors had dipped into her savings and launched Sidetracks Women and a new website, after “working all day, every day and using all may energy to get it running”.
The first tour is scheduled for spring – wilderness tours for small groups, with simple accommodation “no minibars”, and home cooking.
She’s already had a good response, with bookings coming from around the country.
“I’ve had to reinvent myself more than twice in my life, you have to have ideas in a drawer in case things don’t work out,” Pastoors says.
Work on Christchurch’s red zone is slowly progressing. (Video first published February 2020)
She is confident the new-look business will break even, but says there will be no money to put back into the business, as this stage.
With many people on reduced incomes or burned by Covid travel cancellations, she is keeping deposits low and bookings transferrable.
“My intention is to get the tours running, so me and my staff can survive. I have put the idea of profit in the background, it’s about survival at this stage.
“I want to rebuild trust for now. There will be time to expand and add more trips later.”