We talk to Penny Rafferty from the LLOA and Emma McDonald of LLNZ on how the DNA of the luxury lodges in Australia and New Zealand makes them perfectly positioned for a comeback post- COVID.
The much-discussed opening up of the national borders between Australia and New Zealand can’t come soon enough for Emma McDonald, Marketing and Member Service Manager of Luxury Lodges of New Zealand. The coronavirus hit the country’s tourism industry harder than most.
“We just have a small domestic base of five million people and of that we do about 20 per cent domestic occupancy,” she says. But that small number can’t support the high-end lodges, which rely upon affluent travellers from the US. “The silver lining at the moment is the amount of enquiries and reservations we’re getting out of Australia.”
Prior to the pandemic, Australians represented about 11 per cent of the luxury tourism sector in New Zealand. Now, Australians who normally go to Europe but are looking for other alternatives are reconsidering crossing the Tasman, especially for skiing holidays. An agreement on a travel safe zone between the two countries, “won’t solve the world’s problems, but it will keep us ticking over,”, McDonald says. Border openings, when they come, are likely to miss most of this ski season, though.
New Zealand’s luxury lodges have always been on Australians’ bucket lists, but they’ve suffered from the perception that “New Zealand is always going to be there,”, she says. Now that Australians are more motivated to visit, they will have many compelling reasons to choose one of the collection’s 32 storied country properties, such as Huka Lodge, Matakauri Lodge or The Landing, – where President Obama famously stayed in 2018 which have set an international benchmark for exceptional hospitality. Since COVID, there’s been an uptake in people wanting exclusive use of owner’s cottages.
McDonald points to the lodges’ breathtaking locations, fantastic, fresh produce and world-renowned wines, and an amazing collection of experiences from horse-riding to heli-skiing, with many activities available year-round, not just in the popular ski season. “When they get there, they say, ‘We didn’t realise. We would have come sooner.’”
Penny Rafferty, Executive Officer, Luxury Lodges of Australia, says the enduring attraction of the 19 lodges in the Australian portfolio is that they are “naturally isolated.”. Post––COVID, more travellers than ever are looking for sanctuary and the kind of transformative experiences that come from having a close communion with nature. “Most of [the lodges] are in locations that by their very nature are remote, isolated, offering the luxury of space shared with only a few people,” Rafferty says.
“This recent time of restricted movement has prompted many of us to think about what we value – – our freedom, our health, the need for connection with nature, and our human connections.”
The lodges offer all the soft luxuries, eating, drinking and utmost comfort, along with intuitive Australian service, and a deep relationship with nature, culture and community.
Whether it be the ancient geology of South Australia’s Flinders Ranges or the undulating dunes overlooking Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, “each lodge is so much more than just a place to stay”says Rafferty. “The real value is in ‘the rich Australian-ness’ of what the lodges offer.”
She adds, “That wonder of Kakadu … and we get to see it without people. What privilege!”