Darren Cossill - Novotel Ningaloo

Darren Cossill is not a run-of-the-mill Novotel General Manager who might have been appointed General Manager at the Novotel Ningaloo Resort at Exmouth as a career step within Accor.

Rather, he’s a local at Exmouth he owns the property and the business.

He is though a hospitality industry man who started off as a glassy in a Mandurah tavern at 15.

At 21, he discovered Exmouth’s surfing, diving and fishing, a lifestyle he supplemented by a night job in the bottle shop of the Potshot Hotel.

“It was truly a fabulous lifestyle during a time in my life when nothing else really mattered,” he said.

In a short time, he was given more responsibility at the Potshot, which ate into his daytime leisure pursuits. Eventually he was appointed the General Manager, which pathwayed to a dual role as General Manager of Grace’s Tavern, 1km away, which was also owned by the hotel proprietors, the local Burkett and Ogden families.

He became well versed in the complexities of hospitality property management – employment, HR, training, OH&S, rules and regulations, supply, finances, profit and loss, building design and functionality, maintenance, f&b standards, customer service and the threats posed by the local cyclone season.

The Cossill family partnered with the Burkett and Ogden families and other local shareholders to establish Sunrise Beach Resort Pty Ltd, a business that purchased land from the State Government on the proviso that a 4 Star internationally-recognised hotel brand was built there to fill a gap in the local accommodation inventory, which was primarily geared to 3-Star, backpackers, caravanners and campers.

The company’s research identified Novotel as the most appropriate brand and directors set about designing the property to Novotel standards. Sunrise Beach Resort entered into a franchise agreement with Accor and Novotel.

The property opened in December 2006 with 18 rooms, six bungalows, 18 two-bedroom apartments and six two-bedroom bungalows, the latter two pitched to the family market.

Cossill says the family market never materialised to the degree they expected but the property is trading well because the family market was compensated by the corporate market linked to local gas and mining industries.

Strange as it may seem, says Cossill, but summer cyclones have been a boon for the hotel because offshore rig operators relocate their staff to Exmouth during cyclones.

Corporate represents 40% of business. Of the tourism market, 70% is from Western Australia, 20% is interstate and 10% is international. The average stay this year is three days, against 2.5 days in previous years.

Cossill reckons he spends half his time on staff. The hotel runs with 60 staff with the average stay three months. It employs 200 staff during the year.

”We don’t get any Australian-trained hospitality staff applying up here, so we have to spend time to train each and every one and manage their skills along the way,” Cossill said.

“And when the average stay is just three months, you can understand why that side of the business is so time consuming.

“They’re all young tourists and I have empathy with why they’re here but they are in the main smart self-starter young people so they generally learn quickly and do the work and we maintain Novotel standards.”

However, Cossill says 30% of staff is what he calls “long term” (one year-plus) which provides engine-room continuity. One employee has been there since opening and the Front Office Manager has five years on site.

The hotel tour desk does not have preferred arrangements with operators of whale shark snorkelling, diving, fishing, surfing or gorge walking tours.

“I’m a local as they are so everyone is in the mix,” he said.

The Novotel Ningaloo Resort has been a successful business venture for Cossill and his fellow shareholders and it has made a significant contribution to the development of the town’s tourism and corporate travel infrastructure, as was envisaged by the State Government and local traders.

“We’ve brought a new level of tourist to Exmouth and everyone in town is benefitting,” he said.

“Previously tour operators were fighting over the budget backpacker market but now they have value-added packages for our style of client which is boosting their bottom lines.”