50 Degrees North celebrates 10 years of operations
This week, 50 Degrees North celebrates exactly 10 years of operations. And wow, what a decade it has been! A letter from Tietse Stelma, 50 Degrees North CEO & Co-founder.
"It all started in Melbourne in 2010 at the tail end of the global financial crisis (GFC) when Jayde and I left our jobs and threw in our savings to start 50 Degrees North - a Nordic tour operator built on our passion for my home country of Norway. Jayde came from an outdoor education background, and I left my Operations Director role at Peregrine Adventures.
In a constrained market after the GFC, 50 Degrees North grew quickly, and it took only 12 months to become profitable, and move from a small ‘husband and wife’ team to a large fabulous team of Scandinavians gathering at the company's offices in West Melbourne.
In 2014, we opened a sister company, a DMC, in Øyer, Norway. In 2016, we launched our Vancouver office in Canada to cater for the North and South American markets. And at the end of the 2019 calendar year, 50 Degrees North employed over 40 very dedicated people in 3 global offices, most of them natives of the Nordic region.
Then came 2020, our 10th year of operation. Following the collapse of a major Scandinavian competitor in Australia, Bentours in late 2019, the year started off with a blast, and we were looking at more than 50% revenue growth and a constant search for new staff. Then, as Covid took hold in March, we were quickly and firmly back down on the ground. The most difficult days in our 10-year history stood before me, having to make about 70% of our wonderful 50 Degrees North family redundant. Luckily, the Australian JobKeeper support and a generous Norwegian welfare arrangement allowed us to take most people back.
When we look back over the past 6 months, it has been a crazy time, but maybe Covid also came as a blessing in disguise. We were clearly growing too fast, and our systems were not efficient. So, we decided very early on that we were certainly not going to sit on our hands and waste the crisis. In July this year, our Norwegian entity was awarded a NOK 2.2 million innovation grant from the Norwegian government, which we have matched to create a NOK 4.4 million war chest to innovate and upgrade our tour operator IT systems.
We are also investing in new Nordic tours and experiences and are launching a range of day tours for FIT and cruise clients throughout the region. We will have more small group tours for both the midnight sun and the northern lights. And, we have a Danish architectural firm designing a 20-room seaside lodge for our 54-acre property above the Arctic Circle in Norway.
With no operating income currently, we have hunkered down and operate our offices in a state of semi-hibernation. We have some people looking after refunds and rebookings, some financiers making sure our spending is under control, a product team busy creating new fabulous experiences, and a well-staffed and senior IT team that is absolutely pumping.
So deep down, I strongly believe 2020, our 10th anniversary, has given us the break we needed to reset, make us stronger and a lot more efficient. We are extremely motivated, and very confident that whenever travel is back on people's agenda, we will be there to serve the travellers’ needs with some very exciting and competitive travel experiences."
Happy 10th! Tietse Stelma