When Sue Rendell helped found Gros Morne Adventures in Norris Point in 1990, she was a young schoolteacher with a passion for the outdoors.
Now that she and her life and business partner Bob Hicks are set to retire from the tourism business, Rendell is more than OK with handing over the reins of Gros Morne Adventures to Kristen Hickey, a substitute teacher who is also an outdoor enthusiast to the core.
Hickey has worked for Rendell and Hicks for the past several summers, both as a guide and in the business office, so the succession couldn’t be more seamless.
Rendell and Hicks are pioneers in Gros Morne National Park’s tourism industry. They began their operation as a summertime pursuit that complemented their regular day jobs at a time when the park was just starting to make a name for itself to locals and vacationers alike. All along they felt there were many opportunities to develop an adventure tourism business based on the untouched wilderness of Gros Morne and other parts of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Hicks, who left a high-tech job in Ottawa to be closer to western Newfoundland’s outdoor offerings, was working as an electronics instructor at the trade school in Corner Brook at the time.
They arranged and led kayaking and hiking tours for five years before one of them was able to finally leave their other job and work at building Gros Morne Adventures full-time. Two years later, they were both fully committed to the business alone.
“From Day 1, it was a lifestyle thing for us,” said Rendell. “Could we have made more money as teachers? Absolutely, but we had a desire to own this business and that’s where we focused our efforts.”
In the early days, they ventured beyond Gros Morne, offering kayaking trips in Notre Dame Bay or week-long sojourns up the Northern Peninsula and over to southern Labrador. They eventually concluded that all they needed to offer great outdoor experiences was contained within the national park
The feedback they got from their constantly growing clientele for nearly three decades reinforced that belief in what Gros Morne has.
“We met people from all walks of life from countries all over the world,” said Rendell. “A lot of these people were very well travelled and there was something special about their experience here. A lot of them said if it wasn’t the best vacation experience they had, it was in their Top 3 or 4.”
In the last five years or so, Rendell and Hicks saw opportunities to expand the business, but they decided not to take on the extra work entailed because they knew they were approaching the time when they would walk away from the business.
Gros Morne Adventures is also a hands-on operation with Hicks and Rendell often lugging kayaks and backpacks. The time was approaching where that important physical component of the work was less enjoyable, despite their undying enthusiasm for leading tours.
Now that they have retired from it, Rendell said knowing Hickey will be taking over is almost like handing over the business to her own child.
Just as she and Hicks knew how to find and cater to the baby boomer generation they are part of, they see enormous potential for Hickey to have success with the younger clientele who now want to explore Gros Morne.
“They’re in a business now where Gros Morne is on the map and there are people just waiting to come,” said Rendell. “It’s not like years ago when we had to go to trade shows and convince people Newfoundland and Labrador was a great destination to come to.”
Hickey, who said she may still take substitute teaching jobs during the offseason, said Gros Morne Adventures will continue to operate in much the same way Rendell and Hicks have left it. They will open in late May around the time of the annual Trails, Tales and Tunes Festival in Norris Point and close in September after the water taxi linking Norris Point to the south side of Gros Morne National Park ceases for the season.
“As soon as I heard about this opportunity, I got excited about it because I enjoy it more than teaching,” said Hickey.
She will be looking for ways to eventually expand, including more offerings during the spring and fall shoulder seasons and the idea of offering an expanded menu at the company’s waterfront property.
While Hickey is the new owner, her husband Robbie will also be helping while maintaining his digital marketing company, Sprout Marketing.
She and Robbie are well aware of the legacy they are inheriting from Rendell and Hicks and can’t wait to grow the tourism industry in Gros Morne.
“There are several other new businesses starting up in the park by people our age,” Hickey noted. “It has really taken off. The number of visitors has been increasing every year, so there are tonnes of opportunities.”