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Buy Side/Sell Side: Ara Roa Villa’s Susanne Olsen

12 Apr 2018  By Contributor

Susanne Olsen

Ara Roa Villa and Boutique Lodgings’ co-owner, Susanne Olsen, on building a luxury market in Northland, the power of word-of-mouth, and opportunities to grow the business.
Ara Roa Villa and Boutique Lodgings is a luxury accommodation provider and property management company based in Northland.
My husband and I have been operating since 2001 when we began providing accommodation at the Whangarei Heads property we own, Te Huia.
It is located on 60 acres within a 20-year old subdivision comprising 13 lifestyle blocks, many of which are holiday homes. It just naturally evolved for us to take on the management of some of the neighbouring properties so we now manage a total of five luxury properties.
The most recent addition is the portfolio is the Glasshouse situated at Kauri Mountain Point – it is a top tier property and superior to the others we manage.
We have been managing The Glasshouse since 2015 during which time is has undergone an extensive redevelopment involving landscape architects and a top Northland builder – we have put in a lot of time and effort to get it to a very high standard.
It is now paying off – in the last 12 months occupancy has gone up 36%, which translates to a 40% increase in revenue.
Across the group revenue is up by 20% in the last 12 months.
I think the work Tourism New Zealand has done in promoting Northland has been a big contributor to this growth. Last year they ran the first single-region campaign early last year in an effort to encourage visitors from Melbourne to Northland in the autumn.
We hooked into that and created lots of landing pages on our website where we offered different deals and got lots of exposure through Tourism New Zealand’s website.
Another reason I believe our booking are up is that we have bought in a chef for the Glasshouse property and can now sell it is a full luxury package.
This offer is all about getting away for three or four days and often if you want to do that then you don’t want to cook.
Business at the Glasshouse is currently split 50:50 between international and domestic, which contrasts with 60:40 across the whole portfolio.
The largest international markets are Europe comprising the UK, France, Germany, Holland, North America and Australia.
We reach the international market through a number of channels including Tourism New Zealand as I mentioned, and also inbound tour operators who generate a lot of business for us out of the American and German market.
We specifically sell a “lodge stay” at the Glasshouse through the ITOs, which means a fully catered package including the chef, and this is really popular.
Ex-pats are a big segment of the Glasshouse market. People who live in Singapore who come back and have been staying with family often make a booking for a couple of nights before they head back overseas.
The domestic market has also been really strong in recent months, with our biggest market being Auckland as it is right on our doorstep.
We are seeing a big increase in the number of domestic travelers seeking bespoke and luxury experiences without having to travel thousands of miles overseas, and these tend to be by people seeking shorter breaks that are a number of days as opposed to a week long.
We also want to make more of a push into the corporate market for small group bookings or incentives. We can fly six executives up here in a helicopter from Auckland for a board meeting for example – this is a domestic market we are going to be looking at.
Northland is really just emerging into the luxury market – there are a few key activities people can do locally, but not the same offer as some part of the South Island.
It would great to have some more activities for this market up here in Northland but it is chicken-and-egg scenario: new activities aren’t viable without the market and you can’t attract the market without the activities.
More broadly, given that we know visitors who do golfing, cycling, walking or hiking spend more money and stay longer, I think an effort should be made to focus on what Northland can offer to these visitors.
There are 10 golf courses in Whangarei, and 24 in Northland, there are cycle trails and some of the top walks in New Zealand, such as the Mount Manaia Walk, are located here.
We have also recently talked about whether we would expand or take on more properties. We are only a very small business – we contract staff in over the summer including the chef, but otherwise it is just us. The concern with getting bigger is that this might compromise the quality of the experience that we deliver.
If you are staying at the Glasshouse and you need assistance with fishing then we go and we help you put the bait on the hook and get the line in. It is that level of service that guests tell people about – we get great feedback about this and really value this word-of-mouth marketing.
We are discussing working with other similar – but larger – groups like Touch of Spice for example. This relationship is a bit of give and take – you set your rates set so you can absorb their commission and then you don’t have to invest as much into marketing.
At the moment we feel that either the business has to be a lot bigger or it has to stay the size that it is. At present we are keen to work on what we have, drive occupancy, create more packages and solutions but not necessarily take on more properties. It is also a lifestyle for us.

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