What do you do when the function of the business you have created over many years suddenly halts and goes into reverse? 

Jenny Nilson at House of Travel has been through the turbulence of the Covid-closed borders for over twelve months now, maintaining the cost of renting prime retail locations in Havelock North and Hastings and trying to keep her team of loyal employees occupied and together. 

It goes without saying that this a matter of survival, financially and emotionally, but the will to keep the business afloat has proven to be the source of new ideas and switches in direction. 

The House of Travel has now become the House of Art and Travel.

For Nilson and her team, 2020 was the year of managing the dashed dreams of her travel clients, facilitating refunds where possible and the delicate art of monitoring and managing airline credits for customers where refunds were not available; work that kept staff at work and occupied for the duration. 

In addition, thousands of families were returning home to New Zealand; others sought to travel abroad for urgent reasons. Covid-19 rules, systems and restrictions worldwide were a whole new area of knowledge for travel specialists that had to be sought out and worked through in an ever shifting environment and where flights could be cancelled at a moment’s notice. 

Paying the rent became the proverbial ‘blowtorch’. In the early days of Lockdown they were helped by the Covid wage subsidy and for a few months Nilson was able to sublet her Havelock North premises to the Christmas shop and let out desks to independent business folk in her Hastings shop, while she and her staff worked from home on the meager pickings of travel within New Zealand. By New Year the Christmas shop was finished and empty again and paying the rent was causing real distress.

In a fine example of resilience, the House of Art emerged, a pop-up art gallery in a travel agency where art brings people in to explore the gallery, conversations take place and sales get made, commissions helping to pay the rent. The Covid-restricted travel services are still going on, customers are able to book their internal travel requirements and other bookings and the place is feeling alive again.

The art opening took place recently, welcoming in a good crowd – travel customers who’ve become friends, art fans, the curious and the artists themselves who are delighted to be showing their work in a fresh venue. 

Pleasingly a lot of work has been sold in the past week and replaced by the happy artists. The mix of artwork displayed consists of print, paintings and sculpture, some of which are large and garden-sized, others more suited to the courtyard. “Something for indoors or outdoors, and commissioned work is welcome,” says Jenny.

With the pandemic as the driver of survival, the newly emerged House of Art and Travel is probably unique in New Zealand for its combination of travel services and art. It has changed the nature of their business, bringing in new customers and, with them, a sense of positivity for her team who had been feeling pretty crushed by their 2020 Covid year.

House of Art Exhibitors

Glen ColechinKim MorganJohn Nelson
Heather WilsonMandy OlsonRuss Evenson
Cinzah MerkinsAmy LynchKatie Baptise
Carol CoombeKen NysseMauricio Benega
David CorsonTerry FowlerBlair Logan
Bruce MartinSusan HigginsonNoel and Diana O’Riley
Rosemary OrmondDebra ThompsonDavid Corson
Judy WoodheadTerry FowlerFiona Norman
Rosalie ThompsonMinutteRicks Terstappen

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