Lessons From The Road

The managing director and I spent three weeks recently on a bit of a road trip to visit clients and hopefully enjoy a little of the great Australian landscape.

We drove from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland to Falls Creek in Victoria and back. Along the way we stayed with clients in caravan park cabins, motels, resorts and city CBD serviced apartments and attended the 11th annual Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Hotel Industry Conference in Sydney and drank pretty awful roadhouse coffee in Taree. For the first time the ANZPHI conference included a half day serviced apartments session which, for me, signals the final acceptance by the traditional hoteliers that management rights is a bona fide accommodation model worth focusing on.

Certainly the prohibitive cost of building and holding an “in one line” hotel is driving many operators toward the strata model. According to some of the operators at the conference, there also seems to be a shift in traveller preferences toward a larger, more self-contained style of accommodation which the traditional hotel room fails to provide.

This trend toward offering alternatives for the short stay traveller seems to also be shifting into the caravan park sector. We noticed a number of traditional holiday parks now offering single night stays in really nice self-contained cabins for tariffs on par or better than some motels. In the past you would have needed your own linen for the cabin but now the operators are providing a complete service, right down to the milk in the fridge. Given the location and general amenity of many caravan parks I suspect this competitive trend will only intensify in the years to come.

Anyway, from Sydney we travelled to the Beechworth area of Victoria and on to Falls Creek. Having never skied before or indeed stayed in snow, we approached this whole episode with some trepidation. Our state of mind was not helped by the mental scaring we had suffered some years ago in NZ while trying to put snow chains on a motor home in a blizzard.

In fact, I had purchased a vehicle with a Snow Button in the mistaken belief that we would be spared the snow chain experience for ever more. Not a chance. So, with hired snow chains on board, we ascended the 30km climb to the village of Falls Creek. On the way up access tickets are required to be purchased and it was at this point that something very odd started to unfold. The dude (that’s snowboard speak for young bloke with dreadlocks and multiple piercings) at the ticket office could not have been more friendly and helpful. I mean really friendly. We just assumed he’d smoked a big joint earlier in the day and continued on our merry way.

Arrived at the over-snow station and guess what, more really friendly people all seeming to have nothing other than our happy holiday to focus on. This experience continued for the whole time we were there regardless of who we talked to or where we were. No matter how many times we fell on our bums trying in vain to depart the lifts with some dignity, there was always a helpful staff member there to rescue us. On the frequent occasions we simply lay in the snow for a rest after a particularly out-of-control descent, we would usually be confronted by someone enquiring as to our health and general wellbeing. Nothing seemed too much trouble and I’d have to say we’ll be going back and the village staff are a large part of the reason we are.

Of course, when you have a short ski season with a pretty narrow window to make a dollar it stands to reason that you’ll do all you can to look after guests and hopefully get them back next year. The people who work at Falls Creek do a very good job of executing this strategy and in my humble opinion could teach other tourism industry operators and accommodation managers a thing or too.

Anyway, we left Falls Creek and, on the instruction of she who must be obeyed, decided to journey to Lakes Entrance via Mount Hotham and The Great Alpine Road. Returned our hired snow chains at Mt Beauty and off we went.

Turns out they don’t call it an alpine area for nothing. If you’ve never been in a complete white out on a road where snow chains are mandatory (and you have none) while trying to convince your better half that it would be a good idea if she drove so as to preserve your driver’s licence then it’s not an experience I would recommend. Needless to say we made it but a pretty scary experience for a novice snow and ice driver. Thank god for the Snow Button.

Anyway, what have we learned from our little journey? A clean room, comfy bed and hot shower are still the keys to good accommodation. Energy efficiency sucks if it means lights you can’t read by and water pressure that won’t wash shampoo out of your hair.

Friendly service goes a long way. Australia is a truly wonderful place for the traveller. Always carry snow chains.

Mike Phipps
Mike Phipps Finance

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