Checking into the Ivory Tower

as published in Hong Kong Business

Beyond mere five-star, there exists a level of luxury that transcends any hotel rating system. A rarefied statusphere where the experience is valued and remembered long after the account is settled. Roderick Eime rose briefly above his station to glimpse life at the very top.

Long envied for their premium cachet and set amid dramatic, blockbuster locations, New Zealand's ultra exclusive 'Super Lodges' continue to earn the praise of luxury travellers and hard-nosed critics alike. Not to be outdone, Australia has launched a counterattack and brought the battle right up to their transTasman cousins. We compare the “front row” from each side.

Grasmere Lodge Cass, South Island NZ

Playing heavily on their dramatic location near Arthurs Pass, Grasmere Lodge will always command the attention of those looking for quiet and comfort in a nostalgic colonial style. Set amidst the spectacular Southern Alps, you'll be wondering which Hollywood epic you're in.

The original homestead harks back to 1858 and, with gradual and tasteful modernisation, now presents the perfect complement to the natural grandeur of its surroundings.

Every guest room at Grasmere Lodge has one king or two single beds, two armchairs and a coffee table, CD player, minibar, a work desk with a modem plug and chair. Each private patio or deck has two outdoor chairs for enjoying the views and fresh mountain air.

A Lake View Deluxe Room is $NZ435.00 per person (dbl occupancy) and includes pre-dinner cocktail hour, a five-course table d'hôte gourmet dinner, and full cooked or continental breakfast. [ ]

Huka Lodge Taupo NZ

Widely considered the top lodge in New Zealand despite fierce competition, Huka continues to garner awards from the most prestigious judges including Travel + Leisure, Condé Naste, Andrew Harper and the Robb Report.

Ideally positioned in a private hideaway adjacent the sublime Waikato River and surrounded by virtual botanic gardens, Huka Lodge was originally a private fishing lodge in the 1920s, but its reputation for fine food and natural serenity spread far and wide.

Executive chef, John Allred, enjoys a substantial reputation thanks to his international schooling courtesy of lodge owner and multimillionaire banker and investor Alex van Heeren.

Instead of grandeur and opulence, the lodge is compact and snug and gives the impression of embracing its guests. Apart from the famed Owners Cottage, Huka Lodge provides 20 guest suites, all decorated in keeping with the main lodge.

Tariffs begin at NZ$730.00 per person, fully inclusive. [ ]

Maungatautari Lodge Lake Karapiro NZ

Unlike many of its contemporaries throughout the country, Maungatautari Lodge is a relatively recent construction, built by its owner-hosts, Peter and Christine Scoular, to their own personal design. This same personal touch extends to their exemplary hospitality, which makes guests feel like old friends visiting for an extended dinner.

Set on 30ha of park-like gardens, there are stud horses and sheep just beyond the colourful expanses of lavender, organic vegetable gardens and citrus orchards. The property is also part of an ambitious wildlife conservation program that aims to preserve and protect the many threatened NZ species such as kiwi, kereru, tui, korimako (bellbirds), kokako, kaka, kakariki, hihi (stitchbirds), toutouwai (robins), skinks, geckos, giant weta and tuatara.

The lodge itself is roomy, bright and airy assisted by broad picture windows with views all the way to Lake Karapiro. Christine does most of the cooking and even occasionally invites guests into the kitchen to share in the culinary experience.

A double occupancy suite is NZ$970 and includes dinner, bed and breakfast. [ ]

Also in the pack; Treetops Luxury Lodge, Rotorua; Peppers on the Point, Rotorua; Kawaha Point Lodge, Rotorua; Otahuna Lodge, Christchurch; Select Braemar Lodge & Spa, Hanmer Springs; Blanket Bay Lodge, Queenstown.

From Lord Howe - A...

Arajilla Retreat, Lord Howe Island

Discretely tucked away amid luxuriant kentia palms and banyan trees on World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island, Arajilla Retreat is perfectly placed to deliver relaxation and rejuvenation.

Owned and operated by the Shead family, Arajilla is one of only two such premium properties on the tiny and remote island, in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand. Resurrected from a tumbledown knick-knack and snack store over twenty years ago, Arajilla now offers international standard accommodation and cuisine along with Ayurvedic spa therapy and massage.

Despite its comfort and welcoming air, guests are more likely to find themselves cycling the few quiet roads, swimming in the turquoise waters of the lagoon or hiking the magnificent landscapes.

Rates begin at AU$470 per person and includes all activities, full breakfast, light lunch, selected pre-dinner drinks, three course dinner with menu changing daily, mountain bikes and return airport transfers on the island. [ ]

Peppers Spicers Peak Lodge Scenic Rim, Queensland

Perched imperiously atop its namesake mountain, Peppers Spicers Peak Lodge is one of the very few such regal properties on the Australian mainland that can match the reputation of the kiwi counterparts.

Built by travel industry entrepreneur and environmental advocate, Graham Turner and his wife Jude, the multi-award-winning, architecturally exquisite property regularly attracts the highest echelon of Australian and international business executives and celebrities seeking a brief, but intense dose of relaxation and sensory pampering. While some choose to explore the glorious bush environs by mountain bike or on foot, most are content to recline in the all-embracing lounge with a good book and a fine wine, just within earshot of the next dinner bell.

Rates begin at A$445.00 per person and includes full breakfast daily, morning and afternoon tea. Your choice of al fresco style lunch or gourmet picnic hamper on the day of arrival. Seven course degustation dinner. All beverages throughout your stay including wines with dinner. [ ]

qualia, Great Barrier Reef

Part of a new wave of Australian ‘ultra lodges’, qualia is located on Hamilton Island amongst the heavenly Whitsunday Group on Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef and creates a new stratum of premium accommodation.

An unabashed hedonistic resort, qualia claims to “immerse you in a relaxed atmosphere, offering personalised and intuitive service”. It’s open, breezy suites were designed by Australian architect Chris Beckingham for billionaire owner Bob Oatley with the objective of harmony with the delicate natural surroundings. Choose from Leeward or Windward Suites, or for that special occasion, grab the two-couple Beach House.

Rates begin at A$725 per person for a minimum two night stay and includes all on-island transfers, meals in both restaurants within qualia, non-alcoholic beverages, plus your own electric golf buggy. The Beach House? A$3100.00 per night. [ ]

Also in the pack: Southern Ocean Lodge, Kangaroo Island; Bloomfield Lodge, Cape Tribulation; Cape Lodge, Margaret River; Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa; Voyages Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef; The Byron at Byron, Byron Bay

Elevate yourself – Watch this Space

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Exchange rate:

HK$10 = A$1.30 = NZ$1.66
(as at 17 July 08)

Greening Hotels - Saving the Planet or the just the Bottom Line?

for HM Magazine

The rush for ‘green’ credentials and kudos has many people asking questions – and none more so than the travelling public.

The travel industry as a whole is drawing both praise and criticism for its impact on the environment. Carbon-burners like airlines, road transport and cruise ships are under scrutiny for their obvious greenhouse gas emissions, but hotels and resorts are not immune either.

Luxury travel is seen, with some justification, as indulgent and pampering with scant regard paid to the consequences of such hedonistic and selfish actions. Golf courses suck fresh water from precious reserves while locals gather drinking water in leaky buckets. Outdoor floodlights illuminate empty tennis courts as nearby barefooted villagers cook over smoky stoves and candlelight. We’ve all seen it.

As probing and questioning eyes fall upon the hospitality industry, the industry is responding with various mechanisms and programs, some genuinely practical and effective – others less so.

Accor recently announced a new twist to the ‘hang your towel for re-use’ practice common in most hotels around the world. Touted by some as a ‘save the planet’ action, most guests quickly see through this request as simply a means to save the hotel money and boost profit rather than as some altruistic gesture.

Acknowledging this, Accor has introduced a formula to determine how much savings can be made through towel re-use and pledged to donate these funds to UNEP’s reforestation programme.

According to their media statement, to prepare for the full-scale introduction, Accor is offering special training for housekeepers and is planning a campaign to build awareness among guests, who will be personally encouraged to take part in the program through a message posted in their bathrooms informing them that “Here, your towels plant trees.”

“The project should enable us to finance the planting of three million trees by 2012,” said Gilles Pélisson, Accor Chief Executive Officer. “I am very proud that the Group is actively supporting the United Nations Environment Programme in this reforestation project, which involves operators and customers of all our hotel brands, from economy to luxury.”

Accor’s program also receives the glowing endorsement of the UNEP.

“All countries are concerned by deforestation,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP. “With this reforestation project, Accor is also helping to combat global warming, restore ecosystems, wipe out epidemics and preserve the planet’s fresh water.”

Even if the money were not going to replant trees, the reduction in waste water and chemical use is a small but real gesture any hotel or motel can make.

Although reforestation is a critical activity in many areas, trees planted today will take at least twenty years to reach maturity. The critics will argue that attention needs to be directed at “now” schemes. What can we do to reduce and offset emissions today?

Marriott, a US$13 billion-a-year company has pledged to donate $2 million over the next three years to encourage Brazilian natives not to chop down trees. Through the Sustainable Amazon Foundation, a newly-formed non-profit organization, Marriott will also solicit contributions from its employees and hotel guests who want to offset their carbon footprint and help save the Amazon.

A novel mechanism employed by the historic Badrutt’s Hotel in St. Moritz was to install a massive heat pump plant utilising the vast water reserves of the lake. When it came time to replace the hotel’s aging oil-fired heaters, it was calculated that by harnessing the heat reserves from the lake water, 475000 litres of heating oil would be saved annually. Additionally, St. Moritz has also installed an extensive array of solar panels around the town leading them to claim the town makes renewable energy not only sensible, but “chic and sexy.”

Hilton Hotels, on a ‘save energy’ drive for over a decade, says it has delivered savings of over 10 per cent last year across more than 80 hotels in Europe as well as cutting water consumption by five percent. The ‘we care!’ initiative, which involves a suite of global actions and targets, has saved the company almost $10 million and instilled a new environmental culture targeting waste, chemicals, energy and water.

Frank Hubbard is the Director of Sustainability, InterContinental Hotels Group ANZSP and says that part of IHG’s philosophy, and an essential component of implementing sound environmental practices, is to provide relevant training and resources.

All these schemes and claims sound great, but who is out there to ‘keep the blighters honest.” What accreditation program or benchmarking exists?

AAA Tourism, the STAR raters, make the refreshingly candid assertion that “recent research has confirmed that consumers have a keen interest in properties that are environmentally friendly. Two out of three say a Green endorsement would positively impact their decision on which accommodation to choose.” So ‘Green Star’ is born, encouraging members to self-assess their property and get a $225 marketing pack with tips on how to promote their new ‘environmentally friendly’ status.

AAA Tourism go on to point out that their Green Star is not an alternative to the better known Green Globe standard, merely a stepping stone to the internationally recognised travel and tourism certification system.

“Green STAR Accreditation is an entry level program for all accommodation operators who wish to reduce the environmental impact of their business; particularly those running small businesses that don’t have vast sums of money to implement costly initiatives. Green STAR is by no means as demanding as Green Globe’s Certification; however a number of practical standards must be met to alleviate pressure on the environment. Put simply, 1000 Green STAR Accredited properties is a far better outcome for the environment than only handful of properties meeting the most rigorous standards,” says Paul Baumgartner, National Manager of STAR Ratings.

Green Globe, according to their website, “aims to deliver the best travel and tourism benchmarking and certification products and services in the world, which facilitate sustainable travel and tourism for companies, communities, ecotourism operations and precincts.” Note keywords; “products” and “deliver”, so Green Globe recognise that green is good business.

Despite the onerous compliance, Heritage Hotels in eco-conscious New Zealand have tackled this head-on and achieved Green Globe benchmarking since 2002. (see break out for their eco-tips)

Another benchmarking program with a respected profile is the home-grown Eco Certification Program from Ecotourism Australia. More rigorous than even Green Globe’s strict criteria, Ecotourism Australia were recently awarded the World Travel and Tourism Council’s “Tourism for Tomorrow” Award for Conservation at the World Tourism Summit in Dubai.

“Ecotourism Australia’s Chairman, Mr Alastair McCracken, said the comprehensive ECO Certification program was a world first when it was introduced in 1995 and the Australian ecotourism industry can be proud of the way it embraced this initiative with its many stringently audited criteria to ensure environmental, economic and cultural sustainability.”

“This program is now an inspiration worldwide as governments and tourism operators seek to measure and manage the environmental impact of human activity,” Mr McCracken said.

Realistically, very few small accommodation operators will be able to achieve Ecotourism Australia standards.

The danger with moving reactively to pressure from environmental criticism is to adopt measures that appear green but have little real impact, with the imperative to be seen to be green more important than implementing actual reductions in emissions or waste.

At a recent ANTOR seminar in Sydney, media spokesman for Choice Magazine, Christopher Zinn, warned the travel industry not to fall into the trap that attracts the attention of his ferociously impartial magazine, namely to make unsubstantiated and unsupported claims.

“In the UK recently, the giant Shell oil company was taken to task by the advertising watchdog for a series of advertisements that pictured flowers sprouting from oil refineries,” said Zinn, “and they found that this was likely to mislead the public.”

The consequences of being ‘outed’ for misleading advertising are many; negative public relations, damaged credibility and big fines to name the obvious ones.

Kris Madden of the Eco Media Group, is a consultant to government and industry on strategic communication as well as eco- and sustainable tourism, has the same warning.

“Although I acknowledge the contribution of the travel industry to global warming, I’m still more than a little suspicious of all these carbon offset schemes popping up,” warns Madden, “there is no framework of operation, no benchmarks and no real checks and balances under which these schemes operate. One has to wonder whether there is a real environmental benefit from some of them, or whether it’s just ‘greenwash’.”

In the fierce competition for consumer sentiment, true carbon consciousness and fuzzy green schemes will be difficult to isolate as more and more businesses fly the “carbon neutral” flag and put green stickers on their windows.

“Sure, it’s better than doing nothing and it certainly raises awareness of the problem, but I fear it is more important for some of the worst offenders to be seen to be reacting to the climate change issue than actually making a difference.”

There is the danger that the cost of offsetting carbon consumption will simply disappear into the cost structure of business and the true intention of greenhouse gas reduction at source will be lost. Carbon trading is big business and getting bigger. According to carbon trader Guy Oilan of Cleaner Climate, the global carbon “market” is worth US$92 billion and growing and is currently valuing one tonne of carbon emission at A$40. So where does the money go?

“Cleaner Climate only develops and supports projects with independently certified and measured emission reductions,” says Oilan, “Our projects adhere to the standards, processes and requirements of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism and The Voluntary Carbon Standard. An example is the WISE wind farm in Karnataka, India, eliminating 2,532 tonnes of CO2 annually.”

To simply and cynically view ‘green’ as the new ‘black’ without moderating our habits and behaviour at both macro- and micro- level is to trivialise the climate change issue.

“Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today and how we respond will shape the lives of future generations,” says IHG CEO, Andy Cosslett.

HM will continue to monitor develops in this field and report regularly on green initiatives and climate change abatement in the hospitality industry.

- ENDS –

Breakout or pull-quote:

"Ecotourism is ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation". - definition of ecotourism adopted by Ecotourism Australia

“Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today and how we respond will shape the lives of future generations.” - IHG CEO, Andy Cosslett


Eco-Tips from Heritage Hotels – Green Globe benchmarked since 2002.

The Heritage Hotel group is committed to creating an environmentally safe working place and as such have been members of Green Globe since 2002. The group has the largest commitment of hotel inventory Green Globe benchmarked for sustainability in the country.

This commitment has been reflected in the implementation of a number of power-saving and sustainability initiatives such as:

* Using energy-saving lamps
* Installing water saving devices such as different showerheads throughout the hotel
* Encouraging guests to re-use towels in order to use less water and reduce detergents
* Introducing glass and plastic bottle recycling program
* Using fire extinguishers that are not CFC based
* Using live plants within the hotel
* Ensuring our suppliers deliver as many items as possible in reusable plastic crates
* Encouraging staff to utilise energy efficiently
* Reusing paper where appropriate within each department

As a result of their involvement, Heritage Auckland has saved 44.5% on energy consumption, 38% on electricity consumption and 44% on water consumption since original benchmarking in 2002. All of this directly impacts positively on the environment.

Expertise to Go - The Great Outsourcing Debate

It’s no longer headline news that many hotels, chains and even humble guest houses are outsourcing many of their non-core activities.

Sometimes it’s as simple as house-keeping and maintenance, in some cases entire hotels are sold with the management company simply retaining operating rights under an agreement with the new owners, usually a large funds management company.

Regardless, it’s a long, sometimes hard, self-analysis that requires identification of core competencies and a commitment to performing those to optimum efficiency.

The criticisms of outsourcing are many, especially when they involve job losses to overseas contractors; airline maintenance and call centres being just two that spring to mind. The overriding issues here are loss of employment opportunities to locals and questions about service quality and control. That said, there are times when outsourcing makes good sense and creates winners all around.

Here at HM Magazine, outsourced public relations is one of the commonest disciplines we encounter. Luke Starr of Starr PR is one of dozens of independent practitioners serving the hospitality industry.

“My clients hire me because I’m a specialist,” says Starr, “my contacts and expertise extend beyond their company and they rightly expect those contacts to yield opportunities that they may not otherwise encounter as a large hotel brand.”

Another simple and obvious example is housekeeping. For many years AHS Hospitality has provided outsourced housekeeping services to the accommodation industry.

However, AHS work in partnership with hotels to provide more than just housekeeping services. Apart from temporary and permanent staff placement, AHS provide linen and laundry management, manage and design OHS systems within the hotel, provide hotel safety checks, train staff in service and procedures plus conduct departmental assessments. Third party assessments have obvious benefits in being able to compare industry-wide standards isolated from any internal culture.

Additionally, the selection of staff and their suitability to a particular property is crucial. AHS recognise this and have proven it to be achievable.

“Outsourcing is fundamental to our business and has been for many years. Our guests are extremely demanding and we need to maintain the highest standards possible,” says Sarah Henderson General Manager, The Como Hotel, Melbourne, “Our housekeeping department is an important part of keeping our guests satisfied. Recently we had a change of senior personnel in our housekeeping operation and AHS handled this with utmost care and professionalism. They have retained top talent in our hotel and we see the benefits of this every day. I very much treat the team like I would if they were employed by me, we are all one team with a common goal.”
Just when you think it’s all getting you down, recruitment, training, human resources, and OHS tasks can be handled by AHS in a timely, sympathetic and efficient manner.

“I outsourced the housekeeping department over 12 months ago to AHS, “ says Tish Nyar, General Manager at Rydges World Square. “We needed to make substantial change - both cultural and operational - and partnering with AHS meant I was able to focus on my revenue generating departments during a particularly challenging time. The benefits for my team have included the additional support from the AHS operational team. With the recently improved quality process AHS has in place we are seeing a continuous lift in standards.”

‘Quality’, to state the obvious, is a fundamental factor in the running of any hotel and from the front desk to the humblest housekeeping tasks, can make or break a property’s reputation.

[ Steve Tochner Quote ]

An area commonly sought for outsourcing is HR. Sydney-based Hostec was formed in 1997 and specialises in executive search, training, and Australian traineeships targeted at international hotels, resorts and associated premier tourism, hospitality and leisure service providers.

“At Hostec, there are plenty of benefits in outsourcing training and recruitment services. People are our business and hospitality and tourism is our passion,” says Ian Wilson, CEO.

“Critically important is understanding people culture and business needs; What is the company looking to achieve in the next three to five years? What strategies to achieve maximum results for shareholders? How do you maintain successful and positive people culture with longevity to the business and brand? After all, it’s our business to be leaders in benchmarking global trends in identifying, developing and retaining better people.”

Wilson says Hostec’s outsourcing success is based on long-term, strategic relationships with growing world-class tourism, hospitality and leisure groups. Critical innovations include technology, workforce efficiencies, consistency and risk minimisation for shareholders. Other benefits include a strategic approach in maximising the Australian Government incentives nationally.

Hostec’s clients include Fairmont, Hilton, Hyatt, Jumeirah, Mirvac, Peninsula, Sofitel and Shangri-la.

If your hotel or chain is considering outsourcing any of your current in-house services, a simple, no-obligation call to any of the qualified hospitality operators will help you decide – one way or the other.


Reasons for outsourcing. Are you ready?

Organisations that outsource are seeking to realise benefits or address the following issues:

* Cost savings. The lowering of the overall cost of the service to the business. This will involve reducing the scope, defining quality levels, re-pricing, re-negotiation, cost re-structuring. Access to lower cost economies through offshoring called "labor arbitrage" generated by the wage gap between industrialised and developing nations.
* Cost restructuring. Operating leverage is a measure that compares fixed costs to variable costs. Outsourcing changes the balance of this ratio by offering a move from fixed to variable cost and also by making variable costs more predictable.
* Improve quality. Achieve a step change in quality through contracting out the service with a new service level agreement.
* Knowledge. Access to intellectual property and wider experience and knowledge.
* Contract. Services will be provided to a legally binding contract with financial penalties and legal redress. This is not the case with internal services.
* Operational expertise. Access to operational best practice that would be too difficult or time consuming to develop in-house.
* Staffing issues. Access to a larger talent pool and a sustainable source of skills.
* Capacity management. An improved method of capacity management of services and technology where the risk in providing the excess capacity is borne by the supplier.
* Catalyst for change. An organisation can use an outsourcing agreement as a catalyst for major step change that can not be achieved alone. The outsourcer becomes a Change agent in the process.
* Reduce time to market. The acceleration of the development or production of a product through the additional capability brought by the supplier.
* Commodification. The trend of standardising business processes, IT Services and application services enabling businesses to intelligently buy at the right price. Allows a wide range of businesses access to services previously only available to large corporations.
* Risk management. An approach to risk management for some types of risks is to partner with an outsourcer who is better able to provide the mitigation.
* Time zone. A sequential task can be done during normal day shift in different time zones - to make it seamlessly available 24x7. Same/similar can be done on a longer term between earth's hemispheres of summer/winter.
* Customer Pressure. Customers may see benefits in dealing with your company, but are not happy with the performance of certain elements of the business, which they may not see a solution to except through outsourcing.

[Source: Wikipedia]

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