Accor’s refurbished and new Novotel hotels across Asia-Pacific are fast becoming the leading properties in the 4- to 4.5-star segment in many cities. Setting a new benchmark for Australasia is Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square and to find out why, HM checks-in.
BY JAMES WILKINSON IN CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND
With the Rugby World Cup less than 12 months away, New Zealand is gearing up for the largest sporting event the country has seen since the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland.
For Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington in particular, it will mean a significant boost to visitor numbers as all three cities host top ranked teams and the biggest games of the tournament.
In Christchurch, the recent Australia-New Zealand Bledisloe Cup game served as the perfect warm-up event to the tournament and with both teams in form, a significant number of Australians crossed the ditch and subsequently filled the city’s hotels.
Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square General Manager Roberts Ejubs said the August 7 test match was not only a good test for how well the city would handle the Rugby World Cup, but major events in general.
“The Bledisloe was a great weekend not only for the Novotel, but for the whole city,” he told HM. “The property had great fun in getting into the spirit of the game with themed cocktails and innovative decorations, whilst the whole of Christchurch had a real buzz about it pre- and post-game.
“The organisation was superb from all quarters, and all bars and restaurants not only experienced really positive trade but they also handled themselves really, really well.
“It all bodes extremely well not only for the World Cup but also for other major events in Christchurch,” he said.
Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square was one of two hotels to open in the city during 2010, alongside Rendezvous’ Marque Hotel, providing a significant boost to room inventory in the South Island’s largest metropolis.
The property opened in January 2010 after a new tower was constructed behind the existing Warners Hotel, adding 154 rooms to the existing 39 heritage rooms and suites. Warners first opened in 1863 with 13 rooms and to this day remains one of New Zealand’s most historic hotels.
Ironically, the structural reinforcement and construction of the new tower meant the hotel was unaffected by the 7.1-magnitude earthquake that struck the city on September 4 in the early hours of the morning.
When HM spoke to Ejubs 24-hours after the quake, he said the hotel was “100% structurally fine and all services are being offered”.
“It was however a rather scary experience and not one I am keen to go through again in a hurry,” he said, noting it was fortunate the property fared so well compared to some other hotels in the city.
Some of Christchurch’s oldest buildings were badly affected by the quake, but the original Warners Hotel was saved from any damage thanks to its upgrade.
When the Novotel was conceived, the challenged posed to Christchurch-based architect Richard Dalman, of Dalman Architecture Limited, was to offer a first-rate modern hotel while protecting and celebrating the historical value of the iconic Warners Hotel.
In this case, Dalman has not only achieved that, but in this case protected a significant city landmark.
“The design features incorporated in the new Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square have been chosen to ensure the contrasts between old and new seem natural, yet appreciated,” Dalman said.
“The blend of modern and heritage, rich and minimal, hard and soft provides for interesting juxtapositions resulting in spaces that celebrate the hotel’s place in the city,” he said.
Rather than theme the design to any specific historic period, Dalman said he chose to create a stylish interior that focused on the location on the edge of Cathedral Square.
“Upon entering through the historic portico of the old Warners Hotel, guests immediately feel a link with the past, but also realise they are now in something more than a much loved, yet well-worn pub,” Dalman said.
“Polished porcelain floor tiles, complemented by timber veneer walls, textured wallpaper and a feature wall, instantly create the feeling of luxury.
“Behind the reception area is a wall of curving stainless steel over ‘carved’ flowing panels depicting the Avon River and the braided rivers of the Canterbury Plains,” he said.
The design, style and features make the hotel one of the finest Novotel in Accor’s Asia-Pacific portfolio. In performance is any indication, it’s also one of the most popular.
“We are absolutely thrilled with how the hotel is performing at present,” Ejubs said. “Whist there is always room for more growth the property is currently performing well above expectations.
“Feedback from the Christchurch community, tourism bodies and our guests themselves has been extremely positive – with our friendly, kiwi service being constantly highlighted and recognised.
“This year has been a most positive year however I am definitely looking forward to 2011 and 2012 as well,” he said.
Ejubs said thanks to the city’s diversity, Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square is performing well across a number of segments.
“Still being only 10 months since opening, we are witnessing exciting growth across all markets which is most pleasing,” he said. “There is significant interest in the hotel and we are very much looking forward to the next few years. This is testament to our superb location, our friendly and professional service, our great product and the support offered by being part of a global hotel company.
“The New Zealand domestic market and Australia will continue to be the two key markets for ourselves. Add to this some additional support from Asia and we have a significant portion of our needs covered.
“The global economy is still sending out mixed signals and as such it is imperative we do not try to get too far ahead of ourselves – whilst still maximizing on all opportunities that do arise,” he said.
With major events infrastructure in Christchurch – including New Zealand’s largest convention space – the MICE market is another segment Ejubs is positive about, but that’s with caution.
“MICE is really exciting for us and the business being generated is most positive,” he said. “We are very much looking forward to the last quarter of 2010 and 2011 where business is really positive. It is also very exciting and pleasing to be securing business now for 2012 and 2013 as well.
“However, MICE is still fairly fluid and needs to be treated with caution. But with a great product on offer, the support of a global brand and the proactive nature of Christchurch and Canterbury Convention Bureau behind us it is looking like a most positive market segment for us moving forward.
“We are very exciting about the opportunities being presented here and the business being secured and over the next 12 months I only see more growth coming from this segment,” he said.
The event being treated with significant caution is the 2011 Rugby World Cup (RWC), which carries a number of positives and negatives.
“The whole of New Zealand is very excited and delighted at the opportunity of being able to showcase New Zealand to the world,” he said. “Having said that though, it is only a six week event and if, as hoteliers, we focus purely on the RWC, we are missing out on revenue opportunities for the remaining 80% of the year.
“RWC should be the cream on top of what should be a relatively strong year for not only this property and Christchurch, but also for the whole country.
“Christchurch is also fortunate enough to be the home of four rugby teams, including Australia and England,” he said.
Supporters from those two teams alone will fill aircraft flying between Australia and Christchurch and that can only bode well for the finest 4.5-star hotel the city has ever seen.
HM flew to Christchurch with Emirates. The Dubai-based airline flies daily from Sydney to Auckland using three-class Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. The author recommends flying in Business Class on the B777, which features lie-flat seats, hundreds of hours of entertainment on demand and the finest trans-Tasman inflight cuisine – including the likes of lobster, lamb shanks, pan-seared snapper and sage roasted chicken – and lounge access on both sides of the ditch. For Kiwis, Emirates flies onwards from Sydney to Dubai, plus more than 100 cities in 60 countries. For bookings, visit www.emirates.com/au
Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square
50 Cathedral Square, Christchurch, New Zealand
Owner: Accor New Zealand
Operator: Accor Hospitality
General Manager: Roberts Ejubs
Opened: 25 January, 2010
Rooms & suites: 193 Guest rooms and suites
F&B outlets: Square Bar and Restaurant
Conferencing: Two conference rooms
Recreation facilities: Gym, iMac stations