A rendering of the planned Gibbston Valley Lodge & Spa. Image: Supplied
Gibbston Valley Winery CEO Greg Hunt on a $20m expansion into luxury, the challenges involved, and the need for the industry to protect the beauty that attracts tourists to Queenstown and NZ.
Gibbston Valley Winery was established in 1983. We are a winery that is truly embedded within the tourism business, with 150,000 people visiting us each year. For those visitors we have been operating a cellar door, cave tours, daytime restaurant, cheesery and a bike centre. In December this year we are expanding the business significantly, launching world-class luxury accommodation and a spa.
Phil Griffith, the owner of the winery, and myself took over the running of Gibbston Valley in 2010. Within our business plan it was always the intention, at the appropriate time, to introduce accommodation.
Two years ago, we identified that the business was running exceptionally well, and with international flights in and out of Queenstown Airport and the growth of tourism in the area, we felt it was the appropriate time to progress to the next level of development, which was the Lodge, Spa and Villas. We’ve invested more than $20m, construction began last year, and we will open in December this year.
The 5-star accommodation offering is comprised of 24 premium villas, a boutique lodge offering a bar, dining options and additional facilities such as a private tasting room and cellar, and a media room for our wine tourism business.
We will also be launching a concierge service to arrange personalised services for our guests and are investing in premium vehicles to be able to run our visitors around and make sure they have a great time whilst in the region.
Our target market for the new facilities will have symmetry with our existing Wine Club members. The majority of our visitors are from Auckland, the east coast of Australia, China and the west coast of the United States. With increased air connectivity from other US cities we expect this market to expand.
We are striving for at least 80% occupancy. During the first couple of months we will invite agents and media to come and stay and report on their experiences. We’ll also have interest from our Wine Club members and people coming to the summer concerts we host at Gibbston. We’re lucky that with the vibrant Queenstown market we can target a wide range of specific events and activities beyond our own.
Queenstown operates at about 74% occupancy year-round, and at the top end of the market there is a shortage of accommodation. We will attract the wine and food enthusiasts – what we call the ‘good living’ visitors – who are keen to experience fine wine and dining, luxury accommodation, the chance to enjoy walking and biking around the area and unique experiences.
We’re loving the process so far, but if I was to identify any challenges then I would say staffing. The time it takes to hire staff makes things difficult at times, because the work permit and visa processing times can be lengthy. It’s an ongoing challenge faced by the whole of the Queenstown basin. It would be great if the government were to simplify the process and reduce the lengthy approval and processing times.
We don’t have the staff we need available in New Zealand so being able to hire people on work permits and visas is essential. On our construction site, if we didn’t have a team that included many skilled tradespeople from overseas, we wouldn’t be able to meet our deadline.
If I was to give a short summary statement on the tourism industry as a whole, I think there is a need to focus on protecting the appeal that New Zealand has – our scenery and beauty. The clean, green image that New Zealand is renowned for is at risk, and needs to be managed. This is something that is very important to me and the entire team at Gibbston Valley, and it is factored into each business decision we make.
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