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Corporates buoyed by dolphin experience

THERE aren’t too many corporate outings that begin with the donning of rubber suits and end with cold fingers and wet bottoms.

But swimming with wild dolphins is, if a Rockingham businessman has anything to do with it, about to become the new thing in corporate recreation.

Terry Howson’s Rockingham Dolphins has been around for 12 years and this year won the Environmental Tourism category at the Western Australian Tourism Awards.

Until recently the focus has been on the domestic, national and overseas tourism markets (peaking during the summer months), as well as small ventures with the disabled and Make-A-Wish/Starlight kids.

But a bit of lateral thinking, good business sense and the threat earlier this year that Perth-Tokyo flights by Qantas would be dropped led Rockingham Dolphins to target the corporate sector.

“The corporate sector is a new market that we’ve been wanting to break in to for some time. Now we’re set up as far as business (is concerned) and running to handle that market,” Mr Howson said.

“I never maintain the markets that I’m in are always going to be secure. When Qantas re-routed the flights from Perth to Tokyo to Sydney, the Japanese market in WA was ready to fold. That market right now is quite unstable and it’s quite a strong part of our business.

“If I don’t look into getting into other markets now I’m cutting my own throat.”

Mr Howson is positive his foray into the corporate market will be a success for two reasons: he believes in good, old-fashioned service; and the unique nature of the product.

“I see that a lot of businesses these days are lacking in service and I believe that if you show someone a really good service it will be successful,” he said.

“It is certainly a very different and memorable way to entertain valuable clients.

“Many people dream of swimming with wild dolphins but few ever get the opportunity to interact with these creatures.

“What we do you can’t do in too many places. But now, for corporate people in Perth, it’s right on their doorstep.

“If they’ve got interstate, overseas or local guests, we can show them the time of their lives.”

Taking part in an activity like this also can work as a great equaliser for all involved – even the client who “knows everything about everything or has done everything a thousand time before” is unlikely to have had experienced the thrill of swimming with dolphins.

Anyone put off by the cold of the Indian Ocean in spring need not fear because, by the time you’re in the water, the euphoric fascination of swimming with a pod of playful porpoises will override the cold. And besides, there’s loads of hot tea to be had on board.

When the business suits are off, wetsuits on, team-coloured belt fastened, mask and snorkel in hand, all that’s left to do is sit at the back of the boat and wait for the all-important ‘go’ signal.

From then on you hold on to the person in front of you with one hand, try to organise your waterproof instant camera with the other, and look down. It’s really a bit like a floating human chain or an aquatic conga line.

Watching the dolphins flipping and rolling in the water below you, feeling the push of the water against you as they swim past, and hearing every click of their chatter is indeed an experience you can’t help but enjoy.

According to Mr Howson, if yet another invitation to a box at the footy doesn’t really excite you, it’s possible that your clients, staff or VIPs feel the same way. And coming within inches of bottlenose dolphins in the wild is an experience they’ll be unlikely to forget in a hurry.

Although some may not think this type of activity is the “corporate” thing to do, maybe even an odd way to entertain clients, it is an invitation that may well find its way to the top of the pile, attracting the usual suspects and, with any luck, exciting the imagination of some of those higher up on the corporate ladder.

Cath Sutherland, the newly appointed marketing person for Rockingham Dolphins, said the experience had emotional, as well as fiscal, advantages.

“It may cost you $220 to take each person to the footy, but it only costs $175 to take them out with Terry,” she said.

As far as stretching the entertainment buck is concerned, it’s a pretty good deal. The day-long trip, includes the swim, lunch at Sunsets Restaurant, vino, transport and even a personalised video of your underwater adventures. Mr Howson also points to the fact that the trip is equally enjoyable for men and women, young and old, cutting out any possibility of offending any group with your choice of excursion.

The Corporate Dolphin packages are only being run during the shoulder season, from the beginning of September through to the end of October and then again for three weeks in May.

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