Hospo boss: Goodbye and good riddance to Queenstown Airport

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Queenstown Airport faces another heavyweight departure – but instead of senior staffers, this time it’s a frustrated major hospitality operator.

Wakatipu-based Good Group is following the footsteps of a string of top brass at Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) by pulling pin – and reefing off about airport boss Scott Paterson on the way out.

Last week, Mountain Scene revealed staff departures included aeronautical general manager Simon Barr and corporate services boss Simon Lange resigning the same day in August – two months after communications boss Nina Crawford quit to move to Brisbane where she has family.

Some senior staff were understood by Mountain Scene to be critical of chief executive Scott Paterson’s leadership and communication style but none would go on record.

Now, the board of Good Group, which has national bar and restaurant interests, has decided as of last week to walk away from its airport café lease when it expires in April – and no longer pursue the tenders to continue with that or its recently removed Bing Bong bar operation, Mountain Scene can reveal.

Good Group spent several hundred thousand dollars installing its swanky bar in January 2010, but was made to remove it in October by QAC which needs the area for a terminal reshuffle.

Good Group chief executive Russell Gray, who back then described tenancy renewal dealings with QAC as “frustrating and disappointing”, says his board acted in good faith during talks but didn’t feel it was reciprocated.

“Enough was enough. We’re a tenant of many landlords across NZ and we found that what they were actually proposing was almost bordering on the bizarre.

“Scott rates his communication skills – I’d question those. All we’ve seemed to get in a long-drawn out process was mixed messages, hollow promises and shifting goalposts,” Gray fumes.

Gray admits Good Group wanted to retain its café and bar tenancies – and also secure a separate new food and beverage tenancy by the entrance – arguing scale is vital to viability at the airport.

“We think QAC runs the risk of ending up with multiple food and beverage outlets all of whom will actually struggle,” Gray says.

“We think the [Request for Proposal] process was poorly run and the draft lease terms offered with it were simply unworkable. QAC needs to take a hard look at its internal processes and treatment of loyal local tenants.”

Paterson confirms Good Group and QAC were initially in discussions about extending tenancies – and then QAC decided to put them up for tender, inviting Good Group to take part.

Paterson, who has previously said QAC wanted to “test the market”, says he believes the airport has enough volume to justify separate food and beverage outlets.

Asked about Gray questioning his communication skills and claims of “mixed messages, hollow promises and shifting goalposts”, Paterson replies: “Look, we started conversations with Good Group some time back – and then we went to market. So read into that what you will.” 

Paterson wouldn’t say what dealing with Good Group was like: “I’m not going to have a crack at them.” 

Paterson also wouldn’t say if it was news to him that Good Group was walking away: “If they’re not the successful party, they don’t have a lot of choice. At the moment, they’re not our preferred party.”

Paterson says he’s disappointed in Gray’s reaction.

QAC has finalised an agreement with another operator for the new entranceway food and beverage operation but isn’t able to announce it yet – Paterson anticipates it’ll be up and running by March.

Last week, Paterson defended his communication saying it’s an area he prides as a personal strength – whilst QAC chairman John Gilks said some staff couldn’t adjust to Paterson’s new management style but the board like the way he did things.

GET IN TOUCH – WHAT’S BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE OF QUEENSTOWN AIRPORT? Contact ed@scene.co.nz