Hotel magazine spoke with Callum Farnell, the director of hospitality for Robertson Lodges - which includes The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers and Matakauri Lodge - to discuss the impacts COVID has had on the luxury accommodation venues.
Like so many New Zealand hospitality businesses, Robertson Lodges has been hit hard by COVID.
"Prior to the pandemic, 80 percent of our business came from international markets. That is a lot of business to make up for with just domestic guests," said Farnell.
"That said, it has been truly lovely to share these lodges with so many New Zealand 'first-time' guests."
With three lodges in the portfolio, Robertson Lodges was able to adapt to the different alert levels by staging re-openings and sharing some staff between venues. For example, the head chef at Matakauri Lodge moved up to the Bay of Islands to cook at Kauri Cliffs, it was an opportunity he relished.
The two North Island lodges, Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers re-opened first as the golf courses were in such high demand. Matakauri Lodge re-opened in time for the New Zealand winter ski season.
The last 18 months has tipped the hospitality business on its head, and every aspect of business changed for Robertson Lodges. From guest numbers, to staffing and procedures, everything has changed.
We have certainly learned to be adaptable and stay nimble though, as gauging border openings has been a moving target.
Part of this adaptability included staying in touch with guests.
"Regular newsletter updates and communication via social media has been important to us and kept us feeling connected to our guests around the world," expressed Farnell.
The response from the local community was extremely positive when the Trans-Tasman bubble was announced.
"Australians came back with gusto and we had very good forward bookings. In fact, September onwards was looking very solid, until the bubble was closed again."
Despite the negative impacts of the pandemic and lockdowns, Farnell noted there had been multiple silver linings.
"We seized the opportunity to undertake some refurbishments and enhancements to all three lodges during the period we have been closed. Things that are difficult to do when business is booming and our lodges are filled with guests."
"The most significant of these is the golf course maintenance at Kauri Cliffs. We are in the process of a very big job re-doing all the greens. The course is going to be perfect for the summer holiday season ahead."
Likewise, the team at Cape Kidnappers has been focused on lodge upgrades and maintaining its award-winning Tom Doak-designed course.
Robertson Lodges were also able to recruit three new lodge managers, one for each lodge. All three hires are New Zealand hospitality professionals who had decided to return home to family during the pandemic.
"Attracting them back to New Zealand and to Robertson Lodges feels like a silver lining."