Hotels conference delivers standout performers – and a sugar hit

One of the largest and most important annual events for Aotearoa’s valuable hotel sector kicked off last Wednesday at Cordis Auckland.

AccomNews spent day two of the New Zealand Hotel Industry Conference 2019, co-hosted by Horwath HTL and Tourism Industry Aotearoa, checking out exactly what the event has to offer.

The programme featured a variety of outstanding international and New Zealand speakers and provided an excellent networking and business opportunity for all. The trade exhibition was varied and interesting and of course everyone was full of anticipation for the gala dinner and presentation of the prestigious New Zealand Hotel Industry Awards.

Important topics such as tourism targeted taxation and industry living wage were covered throughout the morning. Regarding taxation issues, Lani Hagaman, executive chairwoman of the Scenic Hotel Group board made this point on behalf of accom providers: “All we want is a level playing field.”

Heidi Kunkel, vice president operations Australasia, represented Hilton Hotels and Resorts in their 100th year of operation and announced the arrival of a Doubletree property next year: “Our objective is to double our footprint in New Zealand.”

A mid-morning discussion about dealing with industry change was chaired by Chris Roberts, chief executive of Tourism Industry Aotearoa, where Simon McGrath, chief operating officer Pacific, Accor talked about the “scale and strength” of accommodation experiences.

He argued a regional/local experience should be “relevant and specific”, giving the example that a genuine “Queenstown hotel experience should be provided by a Queenstown team, thinking Queenstown and living in Queenstown”.

Tim Alpe, chief executive of ‘new kid on the block’ Jucy Snooze, described how they have innovated the backpacker model, providing “very customer-centric pod hotels” which successfully appeal to a much wider clientele, with guests aged from 18-80.

Brent Thomas, head of public policy for Airbnb, described the many upside opportunities of what started as a blow-up mattress in a spare room and now provides 2.3 million guest check ins. He said: “Airbnb continues to grow with the launch of Airbnb experiences.”

After lunch, Westpac chief economist Dominic Stephens gave an overview of the current, slowed economic climate. He described how China, Australia and the UK economy have endured a sharp slowdown which has adversely affected international visitors, but he feels this downward trend will start to stabilise over the next year. On the bright side, USA visitor numbers are up, as are domestic travellers.

A high point of the day was the sugar rush from the presentation by Philip Poole of Whittakers Chocolate, New Zealand’s most trusted brand (awarded by Reader’s Digest eight years in a row). The incredible story of the rise of this family-owned business, which has overtaken the All Blacks as New Zealand’s most loved brand, was fascinating.

The main industry ‘take aways’ from the afternoon panel were…

On industry staff shortages:

“We feel the pressure of finding talent. It is not about experience and skill it is more about attitude,” said Bruce Garrett, managing director, Brook Serene Hotel Management.

“We are not selling our industry as a desirable work career,” said Pipiana Whiston, general manager, Millennium Hotel Rotorua and winner of general manager of the year.

Sally Attfield, hotel sector manager for Tourism Industry Aotearoa, announced the introduction of scholarships to entice newcomers into careers in hotel management. Four bursaries worth $3000 each will be awarded for study in 2020. Applications will open later this year for candidates entering their final year of study on a hotel management or business degree with a major in hotels/hospitality.

On the changing role of the general manager:

“This is not a job it’s a lifestyle,” said Nicole Lawson, group general manager, Jet Parks Hotels.

“Along with everything else you need to be far more commercially astute,” said Scott Hamilton, general manager, Intercontinental Hotel, Wellington.

“I am the figurehead of the business; I am also face-to-face with people. I am in the industry for people,” said Paul Columbus, general manager, Novotel & Ibis Budget Auckland Airport Hotels.

Richard Bungeroth, general manager, Te Waonui Forest Retreat, talked about how he entered the industry because of his love of travel. He said: “It is an amazing industry!”

The day ended with keynote speaker Rt Hon Sir John Key, GNZM, AC who talked about the genuine warmth of NZ hospitality that international visitors love so much. He also spoke about the opening of more long-haul Air New Zealand flights throughout the USA and the introduction of the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft which is currently benefiting the tourism industry enormously.


Mandy Clarke, Industry Reporter

Mandy Clarke, is an industry reporter for

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