For Mark Rose, the key to success for Queenstown’s award-winning hotel The Rees is good ‘old school’ style relationship building.
NZB: What is your business background and how did you first get involved with The Rees?
MARK: I’m a trained chef by trade. The pathway to my present role at The Rees came from time spent managing hotels, a resort, a winery and significant property projects. The call of Queenstown came when offshore working as GM at the five-star Cameron House Hotel on Loch Lomond in Scotland. The Rees’ chairman approached me to relocate back to launch The Rees. That evolved into buying the management company along with my partners in 2015.
NZB: What makes the hotel so unique in the Queenstown accommodation market?
MARK: The Rees mirrors Queenstown – from our physical surrounds like the schist, wood and natural colours to the diverse community who work with us. This is no “cookie cutter” operation – we have terrific and talented people who are passionate about giving the best service they can. I like the very flat management structure and how our team is encouraged to take responsibility and be part of strategy development. Seeing them progress through the ranks into management positions makes all the effort worthwhile. A shining example is Roman, who started as a junior in our front office and is now executive assistant manager and a senior figure in our executive team.
NZB: Compared to the industry standard, The Rees has low staff turnover – why is this?
MARK: Turnover has been around ten percent over the past five years (the national average is around 18 percent) because we put huge effort into training, give clear direction, show thanks when the team get it right and assist when they don’t, find the right niche for each person, treat them with respect and pay well. Most importantly, we have fun!
The little things are the big things – think spontaneous ice-cream runs and flash mobs.
We celebrate our ‘employee of the month’ with a flash-mob, followed by complimentary dinner.
The old adage about the customer always being right and being the most important person is not true – our team is my most important focus because if they’re well-trained and happy in their jobs this translates into excellent customer service and guest experiences.
NZB: What other management initiatives contribute to the hotel’s high performance and profitability?
MARK: A conscious and deliberate effort to keeping current backed by the commitment of our owners, board and management. To keep pace with the market I travel regularly to connect in person with our global trade channels.
Yield isn’t an issue if it’s well managed and we consistently deliver expectation of value.
Unfortunately this is not always the case in Queenstown or across New Zealand.
We are constantly striving to increase the quality of our offering – focusing on our guests’ need for ‘high-touch’ personal service and delivering it.
My board give me the freedom to do my job; too often in our industry GMs are constantly told what to do and how to do it by a head office far removed from market realities.
We live by the saying: Customers don’t expect you to be perfect – however, they do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.
NZB: Describe your approach to marketing and building relationships.
MARK: When you look at it logically, keeping the customer you have (and them telling all of their friends and/or travel agents) is smarter and more efficient than continually trying to attract new ones. We have always focused on giving fantastic guest experiences.
On top of this I front up in person to our major partners all over the world. This year I will travel around 100 days – from Lima to Riyadh. I visit, show respect and thank our partners for their valuable business and garner direct feedback, which is gold.
NZB: What are some of the lessons you’ve learnt while building market share?
MARK: It’s all about having GREAT people – everyone has showers, beds and a lobby. All hotel companies say they value their teams, yet our point of difference is the way we interact and treat our people. It has also helped that we have a stunning outlook to Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables from the hotel, modern infrastructure, and Queenstown is a drop dead gorgeous destination.
Being a ‘standalone’ independently owned operation, we are nimble and quick to react to the markets’ needs.
NZB: The Rees is a combination of hotel rooms and body corporate apartments. What unique challenges does that present?
MARK: Owners need to work with us to ensure our product is always in the best condition possible – having a proactive body corporate chair, Ian Boud, and committee, greatly assists.
I work closely with Ian, a qualified accountant, to ensure our owners are well looked after, well informed and earning amongst the best ROIs in Queenstown. The body corporate fees reflect what is needed to be done to maintain our luxury offering and keep it in great shape – which does not mean rape and pillage!
Often management companies and owners are at each other’s throats, which is crazy as we are all in the business together focusing on the same outcomes. We’re inclusive, so our owners are treated as guests and encouraged to be part of the decision making process.
NZB: How do you regard the current state of the Queenstown accommodation market?
MARK: For too many years the chain hotels have not reinvested in their product. Now they are too busy to do so – charging high tariffs for aged properties and banking the profits rather than taking the long term view of keeping their hotels in great condition and creating a value proposition for their guests to enjoy.
It’s often reflected in the way they treat their teams too, by paying minimum wage and not guaranteeing year round hours.
The two biggest issues facing Queenstown are a lack of infrastructure and a lack of reasonably priced housing for workers. For the government to continue to take around $700 million in GST from our town, they need to assist with reinvestment – this includes transportation and some assistance in housing.
NZB: What plans do you have to further improve the offering at The Rees?
MARK: The Rees Experience goes to the next level with the introduction in 2017 of ‘The Rees Residences’ – currently under construction. The three bedroom, three bathroom lakeside luxury villas come with 24-hour full hotel service.
We now also offer an Auckland-based 84-foot luxury cruise boat, and have access to a helicopter in Queenstown and Auckland. We’re always on the lookout to expand our luxury portfolio to meet the needs of our discerning guests.