High-fliers with deep pockets are coming back to the most exclusive end of New Zealand’s accommodation market after the border closures meant luxury lodges had to adapt to the squeeze on international travel.
Several of the country’s premier luxury lodges shifted towards local tourism when the pandemic effectively strangled the wealthy overseas market.
Lodges – such as Wharekauhau in South Wairarapa, Otahuna in Canterbury and Blanket Bay in Queenstown – weathered the tourism drought thanks to local patronage and are coming out with renewed vigour.
Wharekauhau Luxury Country Lodge manager Richard Rooney said they were not the same operation as they were pre-pandemic but that was not a bad thing.
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He said they had got solid international bookings coming in for the rest of the year, with individual groups that could be spending as much as a million dollars at the lodge.
Rooney said with the Government considering how it wanted to shape tourism post-pandemic targeting “high quality” tourists, the luxury offering was an important part of the market.
“Whether it is through immigration, Tourism New Zealand or regional tourism offices, it is really important that there is collaboration and understanding that we are all here for the greater good.”
Tourism New Zealand was aiming to create compelling campaigns to reach high-quality visitors.
Chief executive René de Monchy said the recovery of the tourism sector was expected to be gradual but the latest data was “showing there are green shoots of recovery”.
Millbrook Resort near Arrowtown is so tranquil, so luxurious; it doesn’t get much better than this. (Video first published in 2017)
“We continue to see arrivals from all key markets grow steadily and US travellers are booking holidays to New Zealand.”
The owner and director of Canterbury’s Otahuna Lodge, Hall Cannon, said many luxury providers proved remarkably resilient despite a loss of international business.
In response to the dramatic change in the tourism landscape, the 128-year-old Tai Tapu lodge opened its restaurant to non-staying guests.
“Our position through the pandemic was probably more robust than some of our peers because the restaurant did help us. We were really surprised at how strong our New Zealand business was through that period.”
Cannon said they were now getting wealthy American and Australian guests returning to holiday in New Zealand.
“We are seeing really solid bookings looking ahead.
“Our December, February, March and April months are tracking better with international guests than we ever have at Otahuna in 15 years.”
Cannon said one of the pinch points was going to be limited air traffic entering the country for business class travellers.
Tourism New Zealand figures showed there have been 412,640 visitor arrivals since April, which was 40% of pre-pandemic levels.
Air capacity had recovered to 75% of pre-Covid for the summer period.
Blanket Bay Lodge, perched at the Glenorchy end of Lake Wakatipu, is one of New Zealand’s most exclusive lodges.
Manager Tom Butler said they were fortunate to have the full backing of their owners through the pandemic, allowing them to retain all staff.
“We have been going OK. We have changed the way we do things to cater purely to the domestic market and also the Australian market when they could finally start coming back again.”
Given its stunning alpine location, the lodge attracts many guests over the winter period and Butler said it had recovered well in recent months.
“The last six months have been really solid.”
He said the northern hemisphere market was just starting to kick in.
“As I look forward to the next six months, we are in a pretty good position to deliver on the really high expectations of the international travellers.
“Just in the last couple of weeks we have seen a real uptick in the number of Americans coming back through.”
All the lodges said they also wanted to continue to cater to Kiwis.
The price of a slice of the high life
At Wharekauhau a cottage costs $4500 a night during festive season, which includes dinner, bed and breakfast.
A group can book the villa, which is a three-bedroom lodge-within-a-lodge, for $22,000 a night.
Blanket Bay also offers a private villa, which comes with a team of staff including a full-time chef, for $28,000 a night in peak season.
Its entry level suite for a couple runs around $4300 per night during the festive period.
A master suite at Otahuna is around $4400 +GST per night and includes everything apart from alcohol, food and other services.