With over 470 team members, 417 rooms, the largest events facilities in the region, not to mention three trains, a brewery, an 18-hole golf course and an equestrian centre under his care, no two days are ever the same for Rydges Resort Hunter Valley General Manager Gareth Long.
Gareth, you’re just a few months into this new chapter for the hotel under the Rydges brand. Tell us a bit about that transition.
I’ve been at the property almost two years. I had been with IHG for 20 years. So, when we found out that the operator was changing, it was big news. I’ve got a really good relationship with the owner, Dr. Jerry Schwartz, and thankfully, I think EVT saw that we had a good team here who were doing a good job of running a big complex resort, so they were happy to have us, and we were happy to stay.
You’re running a major operation here. With such a large team, people management must be a huge part of your job?
Yes. We’ve got over 470 staff at the resort – we’re the largest employer from a hospitality perspective in the Hunter. We’ve got a great core group of people who have been here for a really long time – some since it opened 16 or 17 years ago – and they just love the place. And a lot of their friends and family end up working here as well. That country hospitality marries up really nicely with Rydges and its ‘Refreshingly Local’ ethos – knowing the space, not pretentious, just down to earth.
It is like running a small city. We’ve got a championship golf course, we’ve got the Sydney Brewery, we’ve got restaurants, bars, and all the awesome things that Jerry invests in. He recently built an equestrian centre on the property and he’s building tennis courts at the moment – which we hope will attract some high-quality tennis players.
It’s big. It’s complex. Big teams. Big events. But it’s good, it keeps us busy.
The resort has some really impressive facilities for kids – it must be hugely popular with families?
Absolutely. My daughter thinks I run Disneyland! So much of what Jerry does and invests in, is inspired by his children – they spend a lot of time up here.
We just had a roller coaster turn up recently. We’ve got a brand-new fully electric train – our third train on site. It’s unbelievable. We can now take up to 60 passengers for resort tours and I think wedding guests will use it.
There’s a brand-new waterslide coming for the splash park that was put in a couple of years ago. I think Jerry said he’s got a pirate ship coming too.
Running alongside all of that is an expansive conferences and events offering. How do you balance the demands of both sides?
Meetings and events is 45 to 50% of our business. We’re the largest conference and events centre in regional New South Wales – we can do stand-up events for 1600 people and sit down for 700-800. It’s a really big part of our business and thankfully, for our industry, people still want to meet face to face.
So, we really can do both. We can be that magical place for families and kids, but then we’ve also got the ability to switch and be a really professional conference venue as well.
With such a large property and high volume of guests and delegates, how do you ensure that it can run in a sustainable and cost-effective way.
We’ve got a cogeneration plant here, which is pretty awesome. It’s like a power generator fuelled by gas and the heat generated by that is used to heat the main pool. Solar is massive – we’ve got a huge solar farm at the back of the resort, and they’re building another one at the moment. Water capture is another important one particularly when you have a golf course like we do here. There are dams all through the place – we utilise a private irrigation supply of water. So, I think for the size of the property, we are super proactive.
The resort was recently recognised by Accommodation Australia for its efforts around disability access and inclusion. What is the hotel doing on that front?
We’ve partnered with Spinal Cord Injuries Australia, which has done really comprehensive reviews of our property so that we’re certified to be a very easy place for people with disabilities to work. I don’t want to just have two roles here for people with disability, I want to be able to offer work in the kitchen or behind the front desk, wherever. We’ve done something similar on the guest side through certification with Accessible Australia, so we are actively promoting that we’ve got accessible facilities across the board.
How are you using technology to enhance the guest experience?
We’re about to relaunch a hotel app, and we’re close to having mobile key technology, which is really exciting. We’re rolling out a casting solution to ensure guests can cast all their content to TVs. And we’ve almost completed a AU$400,000 Wi-Fi upgrade – we’ll have about 400 wireless access points around the resort where the connectivity is pretty seamless.
Tell us about the new and upcoming projects that you’re working on at the resort?
We’ve been doing soft refurbishments throughout the resort. We’re in the final stages of purchasing brand new beds – which is a big job when you have 417 rooms and over 700 beds. We’ve had brand new furniture going into all the villas.
We’ve started some exciting conversations with EVT around food and beverage concepts. We want to make sure that we’re leaning in on their expertise in that area. We’re focusing on our transition from day to night at our restaurant Red Salt. We can do over 1000 people there for breakfast – it’s massive. So, it’s looking at how we then transition that to a really awesome, intimate dinner experience. I think those transitions in a resort are so important – we want it to be seamless.