Robertson Lodges Sees Silver Lining Amid Lockdowns

We spoke to 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 the pandemic and its ongoing affects.

"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 instance, our head chef at Matakauri Lodge moved up to the Bay of Islands to cook at Kauri Cliffs for a period - an opportunity he relished.

"We re-opened the two North Island lodges, Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers first, especially 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."

The response from the local community was extremely positive when the Trans-Tasman bubble was announced until it closed again, he said.

"The biggest response we had was from the Australian market 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 said 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.

"We also had time to recruit three new lodge managers, one for each lodge. All three hires are New Zealand hospitality professionals who decided to return home to family during the pandemic.

"Attracting them back to New Zealand and to Robertson Lodges feels like a silver lining."