Baillie Lodges has flagged a potential opening of the reincarnated Southern Ocean Lodge before the end of 2023. As overseas demand for the luxury hospitality group’s Australia portfolio continues to grow, Chief Operating Officer Craig Bradbery has highlighted a number of key trends and challenges still facing Baillie Lodges, one year after the country’s international borders reopened to tourism following the pandemic.
Speaking at Tourism Australia’s ‘Destination Australia’ summit yesterday [Thursday 16 March 2023], Bradbery said Baillie Lodges’ primary source, North America, had “certainly come back the strongest of all our markets” over the last 12 months, with Europe and UK still some way off fully recovering.
“We’ve seen positive growth over summer, but not where we would have liked to see it,” Bradbery said during a panel discussion at the one-day event in Sydney.
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“There’s some good shoots. Our North American tour series market, an older demographic, is very strong,” he said. “What’s really positive is just in the last couple of months we’re seeing a bit of a return for seasonality from spring onwards. By the end of the year we’re hopefully going to be back to some sort of normality with seasonality.”
Baillie Lodges’ Australian portfolio includes Longitude 131° at Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island, Silky Oaks Lodge in the Daintree Rainforest, The Louise in the Barossa Valley and soon, a new-from-the-ground-up, Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island. The company also has two other properties in New Zealand (Huka Lodge), Canada (Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge), and is the major shareholder in Chile’s Tierra Hotels.
Bradbery says the luxury hotelier is still facing “up and downs”, but he is optimistic, noting “we’re really positive about the future in our segment.”
“I think [after] every crisis we learn a lot and we rebound quicker and smarter.”
He told delegates of Destination Australia that Baillie Lodges was excited for the relaunch of a brand new Southern Ocean Lodge after nearly four years since the property was destroyed by catastrophic bushfires in January 2020.
Ground was broken on Southern Ocean Lodge 2.0 just over 13 months ago. Bradbery wouldn’t divulge when SOL 2.0 would reopen, however, LATTE can reveal reservations have been flagged to open in May 2023, for an earmarked debut in late November 2023.
On other topic discussion points, Bradbery said demand for premium and private touring remains very strong, particularly for indigenous experiences and indigenous art sales.
“We’ve always been really focused on environmental sustainability, and our guests have always expected that but cultural sustainability has become really important.”
Bradbery said Baillie Lodges’ guests are attentive to “stories behind the product”.
He said there was a much longer lead time for booking and that guests are after more information, and want it faster than before.
“They want to know it, [and] they want to know now.”
“They want to know who their guide is and where they’re from. They want to know the artist. They want to know not just what the wine tastes like, but who the winemaker is, so there’s a lot of demand to engage deeper and understand more about what they’re doing and what they’re participating in.”
He added that the group’s customers also prefer having a limited number of choices, preferring to be guided and recommended only the very best experiences and that too much choice wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
The hospitality executive told attendees of Destination Australia that a challenge facing Baillie Lodges is domestic flight connections for overseas travellers arriving in Australia and getting to the group’s network of regional properties – such as Lord Howe Island, Uluru and Far North Queensland – currently limiting a seamless experience that high-spending international guests desire.
Bradbery also noted that customer loyalty is on Baillie Lodges’ radar going forward, suggesting members are likely to return the favour they received during the difficult period of the recent past.
“I feel people are going to be loyal to the businesses that looked after them in the pandemic, whether that was taking care of their health, giving them great experiences, making the travel experience easy and seamless – I think we’ll benefit from that.”