Sunday, November 25, 2007

"Exceptional" star in Northland sky

One of the oldest-established boutique accommodations in Northland has achieved the highest star level in the demanding Qualmark assessment. On the road to Russell, Orongo Bay Homestead is a historic-listed landmark that was built in the 1860s for the first American Commercial Agent in the Bay of Islands. The two-storey Homestead with extensive grounds was opened as a gourmet guest house in 1994, after being purchased and refurbished by its proprietors Chris Swannell and Michael Hooper.


“Each year we’ve developed the grounds and building,” says Chris Swannell. “Along the way we’ve achieved organic certification, hosted numerous international figures, and been judged in the top three boutique hotels in the New Zealand Tourism Awards. Achieving 5-star status in Qualmark means we’ve measured up against 400 quality- checking criteria.” The rating also means the Homestead’s official tourism descriptor lifts from “excellent” to “exceptional”.

Michael Hooper says the top rating could not come at a better time. “We are about to represent Northland, and in reality New Zealand, at the Luxury Tourism Expo in Las Vegas, as founding members of the diverse New Zealand Luxury group. This is a marketplace for agents who sell to the world’s most discerning travellers. This grading gives the Homestead’s investment in the trade mission a much better chance of capturing attention, and adds to our credibility with bookers of high level tourist travel.”


Hooper and Swannell are also taking part in a Los Angeles consumer promotion next weekend, especially promoting high end Maori tourism product, with which they have long been associated.


During the pair’s absence, the Homestead staff will be occupied preparing the house and grounds for the tourism season ahead, which, says Chris Swannell, may prove to be a difficult one. “The high NZ/US dollar rate, a perception that New Zealand is not good value for money, and some less-than-excellent food and service experiences in other parts of the country have made some international visitors reluctant to make repeat visits. Our job is to counter that, and this rating will help us speak convincingly.”


Michael Hooper was head restaurant judge for Restaurant of the Year staged in Auckland in September, and he contributes to a variety of media as a food and wine authority and commentator. He is also current and multiple holder of the Magazine Travel Writer of the Year in the annual Cathay Pacific Travel Media Awards. Chris Swannell is a deacon in the Anglican church and, along with Hooper, is a published photographer.


The pair say they have plans for further upgrading of the luxury Homestead even within the next year. “We see attaining 5 stars not so much as a reward but as a real motivator. We’re in the front row, now we have to lead the pack.”


Qualmark is New Zealand tourism's official quality mark, a joint venture of Tourism New Zealand and the New Zealand Automobile Association. It demonstrates to travellers the professionalism of a tourism business that can be trusted to deliver a quality experience.


For more details and bookings click here

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