One of the region’s most recognisable faces has cemented his place in the Margaret River tourism industry by making a prestigious Top 10 list for the whole South Pacific region. This week’s coveted Tripadvisor award was another highlight for Margaret River Discovery Co. operator Sean Blocksidge, who gambled on a risky career move during the 2008 global financial crisis to offer insightful, behind-the-scenes tours of the wine region, and almost going broke trying to make it work. While the industry has since caught up with Nr Blocksidge’s boutique approach, making him a de facto trailblazer, he built his business on quality experiences for a limited number of clients and stared down plenty of challenges along the way. “I sometimes wonder if there should be a tourism award for the most persistently stubborn tourism operator in WA,” Mr Blocksidge said. “It’s an incredibly difficult experience to sell, but the people who do it are awesome.” In the early days, the prospects for his newly-formed business seemed bleak. After a career as a former hotel general manager and cellar door operator, Mr Blocksidge went out on his own, backed by research arguing the majority of travellers wanted natural and authentic personal experiences. It turned out his research was wrong. “Even after 16 years, it still boggles my mind how few people actually want to go canoeing, hiking, four-wheel-driving, lunching and wine tasting in a day,” he said. “The tour is so hard to sell. Of the thousands and thousands of people in Margaret River each day, only six or so people think the MRDCo is a good idea. “Even more perplexing numbers, for every 100 people who look at the MRDCo website, only an average of one person actually tries to make a booking. Ninety nine out of 100 thought the itinerary was a bad idea, most of them put off by canoeing. “A smarter business operator would never operate a business based on those numbers. They’d close the doors, or ditch the canoes.” Yet the latest accolade also comes as Tripadvisor awarded Mr Blocksidge the Margaret River region’s number one tour experience for the 16th year in a row. The operator has innovated his way from merely surviving to now thriving in the ever-changing industry. When COVID-19 struck, Mr Blocksidge thought his business was sunk for good. Instead, he finally cracked the local market after blasting Perth travellers who just wanted to visit breweries instead of seeing the region’s signature beaches and vineyards. “It’s so much fun to showcase parts of the region most people never get to see,” he said. “How can you come to Margaret River and miss the actual Margaret River or the Cape-to-Cape Tracks? That’s nuts.” Along the way, Mr Blocksidge also demonstrated uncanny timing, stellar photography and passionate advocacy for the Margaret River region. He now has the ear of tourism experts, including successive WA tourism ministers. While hooking clients might have been a tough sell, Mr Blocksidge’s social media presence and knack for capturing the moment have become an enviable part of his brand. As well as being the go-to guide for high-end celebrities and visitors to the Margaret River region, Mr Blocksidge’s impressive photographic skills have not just boosted his profile. As a volunteer firefighter often trading tours for the heat of the moment, his cool hand on the shutter has also seen him anointed as one of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services’ dedicated action photographers.