Covid-19: hosts are “reasonably” optimistic as summer approaches

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With international guests accounting for 85% of their visitors, Marlborough and Harvest restaurant owner Angela Dillon has had to adapt her business to the new Covid-19 reality.

“It was major for us.

“It won’t go back to how it was two years ago, things would change and it would take time to rebuild.

“We have to be flexible and work to keep our staff engaged and stay engaged with the local community,” Dillon said.

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With New Zealand’s borders remaining closed, Dillon decided to refocus on the local market and change its marketing strategy to become more accessible.

“The most important thing for us was to focus on our Harvest restaurant and what we were offering,” she said.

“A lot of people felt like you just have to go there for a fine dining experience, so we tried to get the message across that the restaurant was for everyone and not just hotel guests.

“It’s an a la carte menu, so it’s very accessible to everyone,” Dillon said.

The small luxury hotel has dropped the word ‘lodge’ for the time being and is now just the Marlborough and Harvest Restaurant.

The Marlborough and Harvest restaurant added a new garden terrace last year and will have a further extension by the end of October.

Provided

The Marlborough and Harvest restaurant added a new garden terrace last year and will have a further extension by the end of October.

Dillon said they have repriced their 10 rooms to encourage people to stay longer.

“For example, a premium room is $1800 per night for high season instead of $2200 and if you stay three or more nights we have discounted packages with a 20% discount.

“We hope this inspires New Zealand travelers to come and explore Marlborough, stay a weekend and explore the fantastic vineyards and beautiful Marlborough Sounds.

“Financially, we’re looking at the whole business and how to generate revenue between our restaurant and our accommodation,” she said.

A new garden terrace was added last year and a further extension is on the way.

“We have a great product, we have a great team and we continue to look to the future.

“There’s nothing we can do to change the situation, so we have to stay positive,” Dillon said.

For the new owners of Lochmara Lodge, Niki Penberthy and Chris Bensemann, the beginnings were quite difficult.

Hit by heavy rain and flooding on July 17, Penberthy said they were lucky to be closed for the winter.

“The flooding has had a big impact on us in terms of new owners and having to focus all of our efforts on clearing and restoring the grounds to be able to open in time for the summer.

“Although there was absolutely no damage to our buildings, the land was the hardest hit,” she said.

“We had a wonderful group of employees who returned to work early to help us with cleaning and customer support, and immense support from qualified friends and family who came to help us too.

Lochmara Lodge's new owners, Niki Penberthy and Chris Bensemann, are looking forward to opening on September 22.

Scott Hammond / Stuff

Lochmara Lodge’s new owners, Niki Penberthy and Chris Bensemann, are looking forward to opening on September 22.

“Although this was not what we had planned for our start to Lochmara ownership, we know there are many others in the community who have been hit harder by the storm and are facing more damage and cost,” she said.

Penberthy said the Covid-19 outbreak had impacted their bookings, but primarily with Australian customers.

“Our New Zealanders are always keen and supportive of holidaying with us, and although some have had to move their dates due to being located in Auckland, overall everything has gone well.

“But we were closed in line with the usual annual closure, so we weren’t affected as much as some of our other hospitality colleagues,” she said.

Marlborough Sounds Adventure Co

A group of kayakers from Marlborough Sounds Adventure Co have a close encounter with an orca. Video first published in May 2021.

Penberthy said bookings were strong for the upcoming season and they were looking forward to opening, as planned, on September 22.

Marlborough Tour Company managing director Abbe Hutchins said the company, which operates several businesses in the area including Punga Cove and Furneaux Lodge, had to “restart” after the lockdown.

“We ended up with a lot of cancellations and then we had to kind of restart the business.

Abbe Hutchins, Managing Director of Marlborough Tour Company.

SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFF

Abbe Hutchins, Managing Director of Marlborough Tour Company.

Hutchins said they seemed quite busy for the October school holidays, but had a few cancellations.

“So we still have to let people know that we are open and that there are still places available.

“But it’s very difficult for people to plan vacations, they have to be sure they won’t end up in another lockdown,” she said.

Scaling for the busiest season, Hutchins said they were reasonably optimistic for the summer.

“We are still optimistic because we think people still want to walk the Queen Charlotte Track, want to stay in a lodge.

“And we want to provide them with a great level of service, so they can come back and do it regularly.”

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