Susan Roberts, co-owner and managing director of Boutique Hotels and Lodges New Zealand, has an extensive background in the aviation industry working for both Air New Zealand and Malaysia Airlines.
Roberts was first introduced to the airline industry as a cabin crew member for Air New Zealand. She later progressed through the many facets of airline learning reservations systems, and onto complex IATA ticketing crafting itineraries for valued corporate clients of the airline. This was before the days of automatic ticketing and when they referred to manuals such as the Official Airline Guide (OAG), together with other complex manuals to sort out the best routes for our clients.
When Air New Zealand opened an office at Parliament Buildings, Roberts was appointed to manage the office and handle the complex international itineraries for politicians from the Prime Minister down to regular MPs. “I had many memorable times meeting many colourful characters in this unique environment.”
After a few years, London called and Roberts enjoyed some time living and working in a different environment, experiencing all the opportunities to travel further in Europe. Travelling opened her eyes to many different cultures, cuisine, and experiences.
When Wellington Malaysia Airlines opened a sales office, Roberts was there on the spot to step into a new challenge.
With new destinations, and exciting places to travel Malaysia became her new playground for exotic holidays. While showcasing luxury hotels to their agents, she was also able to have a taste of the highlife filled with beautiful beaches, pools, and top-notch service.
“It wasn’t always luxe,” said Roberts. She recalled a time when she escorted a group to Borneo and travelled up the Kinabatangan River to an eco-lodge spotting elephants and proboscis monkeys, together with the adorable Orang Utans. “One of our agents mislaid his ticket and to contact our office back in New Zealand, we had to climb a huge tree to cell phone coverage. A real jungle adventure.”
Another time, Roberts and her team were used as a test group for a new Vietnamese tour being crafted by a New Zealand agency. They travelled through to unheard of towns in the Mekong Delta and stayed in unique guest houses, sleeping under nets, and chasing off huge cockroaches, not to mention being caught in monsoon floods. Roberts had so many more fabulous adventures, including sailing down the Nile in Egypt.
Tourism is imprinted in Roberts’ DNA. This provided a solid background for her next exciting venture - Boutique Hotels and Lodges New Zealand. The company was formed to give smaller hotels, boutique lodges and self-contained villas the opportunity to place their product in front of international markets. In this industry with its distribution systems, it’s not always easy for a small operator to be heard in this busy arena. They introduce these properties to their trade partners in New Zealand and promote them at international trade shows, ensuring they’re highly visible in the international market.
Their member properties range from relaxing country homes, heritage luxury lodges, hip boutique hotels to luxe self-contained villas with private pools. Though they may not conform to a standard pattern, what they do share is their genuine hospitality. Many of the properties in their collection offer exquisite hand-crafted cuisine and unique boutique wines, giving guests an opportunity to experience what New Zealand is about. Each boutique hotel, lodge and villa knows their region and all the best places to visit.
Covid has impacted Boutique Hotels and Lodges New Zealand’s business model but many of their members have been able to pivot to the New Zealand market. While each member is unique, they are uniform in their ability to offer international-class luxury, but their greatest asset is their owners.
“As the Maori proverb says, he aha te mea nui o tea ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. Which means, what is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people,” said Roberts.
She is immensely proud of the operators they represent.