Camp manager’s five-star background

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Glenorchy’s new campground has a manager with high-end hotel management experience to die for. Then again, Camp Glenorchy is no ordinary campground. Peter Kerr talks to Philip Chandler about his nomadic past, his present role and a life-changing car crash 

Managing Camp Glenorchy, which officially opened this week, is like coming full circle for Peter Kerr.

The 58-year-old’s stellar hotel career had its humble beginnings in Queenstown.

Dunedin-raised, he got to know the resort as his parents had a holiday home in Hallenstein Street.

He’d planned to go farming after leaving school, but a car accident – not his worst, as it turned out – put paid to that.

After two months in hospital, he shifted to Queenstown, and to subsidise his skiing, which he’d fallen in love with, started at the Frankton Motor Hotel as a trainee manager.

He then joined the new Ramada Inn, now Copthorne Lakefront, also as a trainee manager, taking his hospitality papers through Dunedin’s Otago Polytechnic.

Next came his first of numerous overseas moves, becoming resident manager at Sydney’s Hilton hotel, before being appointed assistant manager of the opulent, 800-room Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong.

“You could live in the hotel for three months and never leave,” he says.

Kerr worked at hotels across South East Asia and the South Pacific during his globetrotting career, including as group manager for Tanoa Hotel Group in Fiji – helping the owners buy Queenstown’s Aspen Hotel.

But it was in the Maldives and India where he managed some of the most splendid properties, including Ananda in the Himalayas, which was then rated the no.1 destination spa in the world. He was also head-hunted to open a spa resort in India for Hilton.

Kerr made several returns to New Zealand for roles at Hyatt and Sheraton in Rotorua and, in the late 90s, managed Bellamy’s in Wellington – Parliament’s food and beverage outlets.

On one trip back, he met his wife, Tracey, who’s now Camp Glenorchy’s guest services manager.

In January 2009, after returning from India, he was involved in a horrendous head-on car smash in the Hawke’s Bay, which put him in hospital for 10 months.

“That accident was very life-changing, in fact I’m really lucky to be here talking to you,” Kerr says.

“After something like that, and being hospitalised for 10 months, you do appreciate life far more.

“Probably before the accident I was a little bit self-opinionated.

“I’ve been fortunate in that Tracy has been very supportive right the way through.”

Injuries included extensive head cuts, major nerve damage which saw him lose mobility in his right hand, and broken collarbone, pelvis, ribs and ankle, while his right knee had to be completely rebuilt.

For the first time in NZ, police used black box evidence to help convict the driver of the other car by proving he’d been going 150kmh two-and-a-half seconds before the point of impact.

The accident also made Kerr more determined to give back.

That fitted with his next role, running a luxury lodge in Tanzania that also had Camp Glenorchy’s fully-sustainable ethos.

After recent assignments in the Pacific with Tanoa Hotel Group, again, he found Camp Glenorchy’s general manager role on Seek.

“I said to Tracey, ‘this is too good to be true’.

“I’d always wanted to go home and do something but I didn’t want to get into mainstream hotels, which are too much focused on the bottom line and the numbers.

“The first thing in the morning [in those hotels], you look at the daily report.

“I come in and look who’s arriving today, who’s departing today.”

Kerr, who joined Camp Glenorchy last June, says his philosophy is that he has two sets of guests.

“One set is the customers who are staying with us, but the others are my team, so I need to look after them and make sure they’re given all the tools, the training and the support they require.”

He agrees he’s very hands-on – “hand-on”, he quips.

He says many of American owners Debbi and Paul Brainerd’s beliefs and philosophies are his own, too.

He also likes the way they’re reviving the traditional Kiwi camp experience where you bump into other guests while cooking your meal, for example.

“I’m just happy to wake each day and look at this amazing place I’m living in and be thankful that I’m here.”

scoop@scene.co.nz