Leading through COVID-19: David Ross, Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve


As leaders, the COVID-19 crisis has presented us all with unexpected challenges. Facing these unprecedented circumstances head-on has led to many stories of great leadership across all industries and sectors in Nelson, Tasman, and Marlborough.

This interview series is designed to inspire and support a sense of togetherness as our region moves through and beyond this challenge.

In this interview, we chat with David Ross, Chief Executive Officer of the Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve. With their operations spanning some of the hardest hit industries, David shares with us the impact of this crisis and how they are adapting.

How has COVID-19 affected your organisation overall?

Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve operations span tourism, recreation, conservation, accommodation, retail and hospitality. These industries have been some of the hardest hit within New Zealand and of course internationally.

When the virus was first brought to our attention earlier in the year, we made thorough preparations to keep our guests and team safe, and we did so through the assistance of partner and industry organisations such as Foodstuffs, HAPNZ and HANZ.

From this point, we were relatively well prepared to react to the Government’s swift introduction of unprecedented level 4 restrictions in late March. These restrictions meant we had to close down elements of our business, but this also presented an opportunity to further assist our community which is a core component of the Reserve’s mission.

The financial impact of COVID-19 has been significant. We estimate that we will have lost around $1.2 m in revenue through the months April to June. Over the past few years, we have made great strides in building our shoulder and winter business and we sustain a core team of 42 staff through the year (from a peak of 120 in summer).

Although this loss of revenue has put pressure on our ability to execute growth strategies, our priorities have been the wellbeing of our team and the planning of sustainable operations through this immediate crisis and beyond.

The Kaiteriteri Store

The Kaiteriteri Store was open throughout all levels and has been a great essential service to our local community. We have adapted product ranges to demand and also introduced much-appreciated 'order and collect' services.

Mountain Bike Park

Our Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park was closed and our operations team were kept busy throughout this period, maintaining facilities, the beach and all Reserve lands and amenities.


We continued to operate our accommodation facilities in conjunction with civil defence authorities to house tourists and other displaced people who could not return home during level 4. As of 28th May, all accommodation facilities will be fully open. F&B was closed then re-opened under level 3 through the GoneBurgers takeaway offer.

It has been great to see the return of customers to Kaiteriteri, riding the park, enjoying their coffee, dining and getting back to the beach.

As a leader, what has been key in keeping your team engaged?

From the outset, I was clear with the whole team that this crisis would have a significant impact on our industry. My approach has been to neither underplay or overstate the potential impacts and consequences. Throughout this period, team members have been working onsite, working from home or not working at all.

Key to good engagement has been (and is):

Information Accuracy

Ensure that all information received about COVID-19 was provided by partner industry and government sources and that it was formatted for conciseness and applicability. This information was then provided to all team members and guests via hardcopy onsite, through email and through shared systems access.


Being visible is important and I made sure to personally engage with each and every staff member, in order to run through the situation, answer any questions and address the uncertainty. This engagement was initially face-to-face, then included telephone, WhatsApp and Zoom. It was, and is, important to be honest with everyone as I operated both from home and onsite through levels 4 and 3.

One Team

Ensuring that intent, communications and support from myself, the Board right through to senior leadership, management and the whole team was consistent and resonant to prevent mixed messages or confusion. Team members knew that decisions were considered, genuine, empathetic and supportive. This was particularly important for those that could not work.

Operational Communications

Daily toolbox meetings via Zoom and regular WhatsApp messaging through to the team ensured onsite and offsite work activity continued and a sense of humour was maintained. There were plenty of jobs that we could get stuck into, solutions to be worked out and support for the community all provided great focus. We used specific and well-defined scenarios for business planning and forecasting which is challenging.

Health and Wellbeing

Additional resources were provided and people were encouraged to speak up. All team members received good discounts for groceries and other products through our store and various channels. We also helped a number of staff who were finishing for the season and could not get on flights home to Europe. We offered them free accommodation throughout levels 4 and 3 and looked after them.

Any learnings or advice you can pass on to other leaders? 

  • Intent is critical and is often overlooked or clouded by complicated or overly involved strategy.
  • Plans are nothing but planning is everything. It is easy to fall in love with a plan or strategy but this crisis has clearly illustrated that adaptability is crucial. I think it was Mike Tyson who said that "everyone has a plan till they get punched in the head."
  • At all times be genuine, honest and ensure the team knows you have got their back.
  • Take a safe to fail approach, ensure lessons are learnt and move quickly. It’s the only way to really improve.


Have you been able to identify any opportunities for your organisation as a result? 

The technologies and systems we have embraced, particularly in hospitality and retail over this period are very sustainable and will serve us well into the future.

Given that around 80% of our peak market is domestic, we are reasonably well placed compared to some others. I see a key opportunity to progress with a new spatial framework for Kaiteriteri that will be transformational and involve large scale landscaping, restoration, business sustainability, energy, waste, civil defence and cultural components. Planning for this will commence in July and will involve significant consultation and partnerships. It will certainly take the wider impacts of COVID-19 into account and it’s all about adaptability.

Any thoughts on what will change for your organisation as a result of this disruptor?

The Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve is 84 years old and is a great example of social enterprise. 100% of our profits are directed back into the Reserve and our partnerships. We have robust responsibilities to the environment we look after and this will not change.

The main changes will be the lack of international travellers over potentially the next couple of years. We look forward to embracing New Zealanders from far and wide, offering them a great product and to continue to be there for our community and partners.

Enjoyed this interview? Read more from our Leading Through COVID-19 interview series here.

Whakatū | Nelson

Te Whanganui-a-Tara | Wellington

Ōtautahi | Christchurch

Waiharakeke | Blenheim

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