9 questions with… Jesse Kornoff, GM Mount Lofty House

How has the upmarket Adelaide Hills property adjusted its business for COVID?

Jesse Kornoff and Sequoia Lodge

In LATTE‘s first Q&A column of 2021, we chat exclusively with Jesse Kornoff, General Manager of Mount Lofty House situated in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia.

Jesse has been onsite at the property since the developments of the new and highly-anticipated addition, Sequoia Lodge, slated to open in April 2021.

1. Can you tell us how business has been for Mt Lofty House over the past six months?
The past six months has been exceptionally busy – actually three of the past six have been our busiest on record. We have seen so many people who normally only travelled internationally for holidays, or had special occasion trips planned overseas from South Australian initially, and more recently people from other states.

Throughout COVID we have taken the opportunity to double down on our luxury service, product and experience focus rather than reduce costs and remove service which has resonated with people at a time when they needed human connection and rejuvenation more than ever before.

We have seen amazing guest feedback over this period, and huge word of mouth with more and more people referred to visit us. During this period we opened a new day spa (Gatekeepers Day Spa) and a new Champagne and Cognac bar to deliver improved guest experience and have continued work on opening Sequoia Lodge which will take place in coming months.

Jesse Kornoff, General Manager, Mount Lofty House

2. What is the hotel doing differently now compared to 12 months ago?
Our brand is all about celebrating special moments, human connection and making people feel special. All of our work is focused on making sure COVID safe practices are our problem, and not the guests. What I mean by that is that we need to ensure we are providing our normal magical experience to our guests, to ensure they are experiencing a true indulgent retreat – which people are seeking now more than ever.

We are lucky that our 30-acre estate provides a luxury of space, privacy and exclusivity already. With only 14 in Sequoia Lodge and the 31 in Mount Lofty House it means we are already perfectly setup to allow guests as much space as they want, with no opportunity to be crowded.

When we reviewed the layout of our restaurant and dining areas to accommodate 1 person per 4 square meters and 1.5 meters in between tables we lost no seats at all, only required adjusting the location of a number of tables.

Piccadilly Valley room, Mount Lofty House

During the peak of COVID we setup our restaurant tables to our guest rooms to be able to provide a fine dining experience in our guest rooms (which we believe was the only restaurant experience available in Australia at that time). We asked guests the style of service they would be most comfortable – either having zero contact handing food over at the door (total of 0% of our guests opt for this) or alternately restaurant style service in their rooms where they have the choice of having us access their door with or without them having to leave their table. Now that we are not restricted on restaurant operations, we have retained this as an option for guests.

That said, behind the scenes is quite different. We have increased the public areas cleaning schedules threefold, and increased the cleaning times in the room to double their prior time. This is due to the extensive disinfecting of literally every area guests can touch using electrostatic disinfectant sprayers through the rest of the room. Gloves and masks are worn for guest room cleaning and disposed of as they leave each room, prior to sanitising hands again. All staff are temperature checked on arrival.

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Hardy's Verandah Restaurant, Mount Lofty House

Literally every aspect of our hotel procedures have been changed and rethought to ensure we are COVID-Safe in everything we do. This has meant re-writing every training manual in the hotel, and addressing every process. A good example is rather than put into place laminated menus in our restaurant we are printing menus for the day, then in between guests taking out the paper from the menu, disinfecting the menu cover and putting a new menu in. We are;

  • dating the menu so our guests can see that we have thought about this without it taking away from their fine dining experience.
  • Rather than using disposable cutlery as is on the news at the moment, all cutlery is being pre-soaked in hospital grade disinfectant (same as hospitals use) then being put through a commercial dishwasher with an extended cycle at 95 degrees eliminating any chance of virus survival.
  • Rather than wearing gloves which dissuade people washing their hands, we have installed additional contactless hand wash sinks in all dish and glass drop off areas, with disposable paper towels and sanitiser. Our procedure is sanitise prior to walking through every door, and all doors are automated.
  • We have relooked at our entire hotel floorplan to consider entry and exit points, making changes where appropriate to minimise or eliminate any areas where people are closer than 1.5m together.

These are only small examples of how we are bringing the same meticulous care and thought that we have brought to guest experience to our guest and staff safety, though happy to elaborate if they like. SA Health reviewed our procedures and awarded us the SA Health COVID Safe Award for Hospitality in South Australia.

3. Have South Australians been heading to the Adelaide Hills for staycations, or longer stays?
South Australians have certainly been heading to the Adelaide Hills along with everyone else for Staycations as they always have, however now we are seeing more and more longer stays as people start to discover how extensive the offering is here with Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale and Adelaide. Plus beaches within half an hour, or a little further afield both Barossa and Eden Valley within an hour.

4. Since the state recently announced a reopening of its borders has there been increased demand from interstate?
Absolutely! Its been fabulous.

Sequoia Lodge at Mount Lofty House - opening in April 2021

5. I note that Mount Lofty House has slightly pushed back the launch of Sequoia Lodge – the new 5-star offering – until early this year. Is this new addition ready to launch?
In answer to are we ready, not just yet – we are putting the finishing touches on the reception area, lounge, private spring fed onsens, infinite pool, helipad, and campfire area on the valley rim. Unfortunately we did have a number of delays due to COVID affects to the build program which has delayed the opening of the new luxury lodge to April this year. We can’t wait to share the finished product with your readers!

6. Will the opening of Sequoia Lodge be the final step in the property’s overall upgrade, or are there more enhancements still to come?
Watch this space! Our owner is very passionate about the property and I can tell you he is always considering improvements to the property.

Sequoia Lodge at Mount Lofty House

7. What are some of the elements of distinction between Mount Lofty House and Sequoia Lodge? What market will it appeal to?
I find the easiest way to understand the difference between Mount Lofty House and Sequoia is this:

If you are coming to South Australia and want to stay in the very best boutique hotel in the state, indeed the number one hotel according to Tripadvisor’s Travellers Choice Awards, Traveller and the AHA Awards, then you would choose to stay at Mount Lofty House. Think Great Gatsby comes to the Adelaide Hills, with a 170 year tradition of celebration and luxurious indulgence.

On the other hand if you are looking for a unique experience that you can’t have anywhere else in the world, and just happens to be here in the Adelaide Hills then Sequoia is for you.

Balcony views from Sequoia Lodge

Five world-class wine regions within an hour and winemakers available to share their personal experiences one on one, the world’s largest surviving koala population in the wild, natural spring fed onsen hot pools on the side of Mount Lofty, and of course the sharing of our story here starting with the oldest surviving culture going through to the Hardy’s role in settlement and development of the state to today – all on a long table with a glass of Adelaide Hills red, complete with campfire on the valley rim at sunset, surrounded by kangaroos and wallabies.

The lodge will focus on money-can’t-buy behind the scenes experiences in our beautiful region. These will centre around our brand pillars of food and wine, nature, wellness and history. Guests will come from all over the world, and initially from around the country seeking experiences that simply aren’t available anywhere else in the world. They will meet the people behind the state’s most iconic brands and experiences, access people and places the public can’t – living like rockstars.

8. Guests are currently able to book the Escarpment Suite that is part of Sequoia. Although not the full-blown experience yet, what has the feedback been of the addition?
Guests are currently able to book the Escarpment Suites, but as a part of Mount Lofty House using the reception and other facilities of Mount Lofty House. So far guests have been absolutely blown away by the quality of the rooms and experiences to date.

Bathroom, Sequoia Lodge at Mount Lofty House

9. Can you tell me about the decision to partner with the Virtuoso luxury travel network? What perks will Virtuoso clients receive at Mount Lofty House/Sequoia?

We felt the partnership with Virtuoso was a straightforward decision given the natural alignment in our product and the types of experience that Virtuoso clients are looking for. So far we are seeing huge enquiry from Virtuoso agents and have received great feedback from their clients.

Sequoia Lodge is opened for reservations for stays commencing 1 April, 2021. More at sequoialodge.com.au/

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