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Tapping into community and tourism assistance helps a nature tourism business bounce back

The Ahead for Business team spoke with Loz Hunt from the beautiful Tanja Lagoon Camp to hear her story of resilience and adaption as a result of the events of the NSW bushfires and COVID-19.

Q: What do you enjoy most about running your business and what challenges you?

I love that I can work from home and run the business from my own property, and nurture and share this beautiful place that we are lucky enough to be the custodians of. We are also passionate about providing ideas of how people can be minimal and sustainable in their lifestyle. Driving towards those goals is a joy, because I’m constantly finding solutions, and there are so many out there that people are making up every day to minimise plastic, to live more lightly on the earth.

The two greatest challenges I find are that I put a lot of pressure on myself to uphold the high quality of the experience we provide. From things such as branding and marketing, down to the quality of the cleaning and hosting, I often take it upon myself to look after all of those details, which is not sustainable.

The other major challenge that I find is that I would love nothing more than going on adventures with my children as much as possible – to take them to the beautiful places that we know and to share the wisdom that we have. But to be able to take them out of their school and lives, and now running a business as well, is really challenging. So it’s a challenge to spend as much time with the kids as I want to.

Q: What impacts have the events of the past 18 months (including bushfires, floods and/or COVID-19) had on your business?

On New Years Eve 2019 we had to evacuate due to bushfires. The fires came as close as 10km to the property, but we were lucky we didn’t have any direct fire impact. Business-wise we had to be closed until the National Park reopened and it was safe for visitors to come back in mid-February. January and February is the peak time for us so this was a huge loss of income, and we had to juggle bookings and either pay people back or postpone them. Once we thought we could invite people back to the valley and say, “Come and support regional areas that have been affected!” COVID hit. The message then became, “No! Actually don’t come, we can’t invite you here, it’s not safe.” It was a major disruption to the business. But as a result of these events, we’ve been able to make some transformative and positive changes, both personally and for the business.

Q: How have you grown or changed as a result of these events? Have you adapted the business or learned new ways to take care of your mental health and wellbeing as a result of these challenging circumstances?

When I drove out of here on that New Years Eve, the kids said to me “Mum, what are we going to do if the safari tents burn?” I said, “It’ll be a fantastic relief and we’ll go on adventures as much as we want.” I actually felt it would be a huge burden lifted, and that made me realise that if we still had a business on the other side of this, it had to change. I had to get more support, change the model, outsource more, so that I didn’t feel this way.

After the bushfires, and then with COVID, there was a constant roll out of support that I found and utilised. We received constant little injections - $10,000 here to just keep liquid, business financial advice there, or free courses at the Bega Valley Innovation Hub to make our business more online savvy. It was all free and it was really amazing, and I think that really helped us transform to where we are now.

We were also able to secure a bushfire recovery loan which has enabled us to take a risk and go into our next phase of development and build an additional two self-contained tents, and a communal meeting place/bushfire refuge. Stage 1 of the business has been self-contained tents, and so this this next phase will allow us to have groups and mean we can put our skills of outdoor education in to action. I’m really excited about the courses we can run for families. The possibilities for activities or retreats that could go on here in this outdoor location are endless! And this wouldn’t have been possible if all this didn’t come before.

Q: What does community mean to you and your small business? What are some things you do to connect with others?

Community is everything – the business wouldn’t exist without it, and we were drawn to settle in this valley because of the community here. Supporting the community here is very important to us and the way want to operate. We try to source local products and produce to use in the business, and showcase these to those who visit.

We regularly have social gatherings with friends, and are part of a group called the Bega Sound Collective, who produce events and DJ at parties. Gathering to dance has been one of my favourite ways to connect with people.

From a business point of view, we have been connected with Sapphire Coast Tourism and Destination NSW, and through them supporting local tourism where we can, for example, providing free accommodation for people to stay and write about the area, and tapping into their campaigns. That’s a really strong network.

Q: What advice would you give to small business owners in the tourism industry who might be having a tough time right now?

Seek out the support network that’s out there, because there is so much going on. Start with your local council, and then the tourism bodies that are out there. Sometimes it’s hard to decipher what’s out there; we’ve been lucky enough that the president of our Chamber of Commerce and the Sapphire Coast Tourism leaders have really fine-tuned and presented what is available and kept us up to date. Business Connect in NSW are good with that too and create a roadmap with you to help you find the resources out there.

About Lorraine Hunt

Lorraine (Loz) and partner Sam own and manage luxury safari tent accommodation business Tanja Lagoon Camp on the Sapphire Coast of NSW. Loz and Sam have a background in outdoor education, guiding groups through the wilderness all over Australia and the world. Now that they have two children, it’s not as easy to lead this mobile lifestyle, so it felt like a natural progression of the life they love to settle in Tanja and provide people with an immersive nature experience. Their main goal is to provide visitors with a relaxing and refreshing time away, and inspire them to reconnect with nature and live more sustainably.

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