The presence of passionate and innovative entrepreneurs is helping to define luxury travel in Australia, opening a whole new world for platinum nomads to romp-and-roll
From left: The Louise, Arkaba Station and Southern Ocean Lodge
Luxury travel planners could be forgiven if they found the experience of searching for luxurious places in Australia akin to the proverbial needle in a haystack.
To begin with, these resorts were few and far between a few years ago – literally, too, considering the vast distances in the continent. An idea of what constitutes luxury travel in Australia, therefore, was as remote as its outback.
But all that has changed as unique, high-end independent properties started popping up, their critical mass and defining traits helping to shape a firm idea of Australian luxury tourism. And in a move designed to make themselves more known and accessible to luxury travel planners, the owners of 16 such resorts have come together under a new grouping, Luxury Lodges of Australia (albeit the only thing that is a ‘lodge’ about them is their small roomcount).
The portfolio of Luxury Lodges of Australia throws up the Who’s Who of Down Under properties whose name on their own whispers a certain cache at home. The Louise, for example, has etched its mark as a vineyard retreat in the Barossa Valley, its restaurant Appellation a gourmand’s best-kept secret. Or take the Southern Ocean Lodge in Kangaroo Island – dramatic architecture springing out of the wilderness.
Or the Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa bordering the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage region, sister to Emirates Hotels & Resorts’ conservation-inspired Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa in Dubai. Or the Lake House, a country garden accommodation in Daylesford that serves haute cuisine.
No two properties are alike, yet each is so alike in one huge area: a special location or setting that, combined, documents Australia’s rich and diverse natural attractions – the outback, desert, mountain ranges, ocean reefs, vineyards, etc – and its ability to deliver the experiential and extraordinary to a discerning clientele.
“Australia has changed in the last eight years,” explained Penny Rafferty, former general manager of The Louise who now heads Luxury Lodges of Australia as its executive officer. “Half of these properties did not exist eight years ago.”
“The presence of innovative entrepreneurs who are seriously passionate for the region they are in is what drove the change,” she said.
American Jim and Helen Carreker, owners of The Louise, for instance, transplanted the European model of destination dining – memorable food and wine experience complemented by luxurious accommodation – into the Barossa Valley, while owners such as James and Hayley Baillie of the Southern Ocean Lodge are passionate about creating luxury icons in places of unique natural significance.
“The one thing they have in common is their individual passion, and recognising how special each region is and the appeal it would have for platinum nomads. And they put their money where their mouth is.
“Australia has never had this critical mass of unique products before and that’s why we’re able to create Luxury Lodges of Australia,” said Rafferty.
The alliance is funded by the owners to serve as the central point of reference for travel planners selling Australia, not as a booking engine.
A suite of tools on the website (www.luxurylodgesofaustralia.com.au) helps travel planners connect the dots, and even the seasoned ones would appreciate the immediate answers to mind-boggling distances, destination experiences and other details, given the diversity and remote regions each property is located.
Tools include eBrochures of the members in seven languages, narrated videos, hi-res images, property fact sheets, getting between lodges and family-friendly lodges.
“Australia is enormous; the scale takes one by surprise. But with tools like Plan Your Trip, we’ve done all the hard work to make sure your planning will be easy and seamless,” Rafferty said.
Last month, Luxury Lodges of Australia made its first overseas debut in Singapore, holding a training day for staff of luxury travel companies in the city, a session that followed an earlier visit by several of the owners with the bosses of the agencies.
The alliance will also be present at key luxury travel trade shows this year.
“If you’re a 10-room property in a global market, you can’t change the perception. Australia has always been perceived as a fantastic product, mainstream, safe; and majority of people don’t get pass the east coast, except the really intrepid travellers and backpackers.
“But these properties are changing all that and, with Tourism Australia’s focus on the high-end in 2012, we should be able to bring the perception of Australia in line with the product,” Rafferty said.