Hotel boss laments radical shift in role

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A long-time Queens­town hotel boss retiring this week says a hotelier’s role has changed radically. 

John Clarke, who’s run the resort’s Millennium for the past 12 years, says a hotelier used to be a ‘mein host’. 

His early years in the late 1970s as general manager of Fox Glacier’s then-Vacation Inn were great, he says. 

“You didn’t have to sell a room, you spent your time operationally and meeting the guests. 

“Now 95 per cent of your time you’re trying to sell a room, and particularly in the new age, GMs are responsible to owners or chains or corporations and they spend more time reporting upwards.” 

Clarke, 67, says he’ll enjoy stepping off the corporate ladder. 

“I have found I am spending more and more time – and this is part of working for chains – reporting, working on spreadsheets and getting more and more removed from the guests.” 

Clarke notes a big change in tourism markets with the traditional northern hemisphere tour business dropping off and Chinese and Indian markets emerging. 

“We have to adapt to look after them because it’s the future.” 

However, Clarke says the Millennium is principally a conference hotel, almost the only one in Queenstown able to host 600 delegates. 

Yet he fully supports the push for a stand-alone convention centre. 

“We’re missing out on the opportunities to do conferences of 800 or 900 or 1000 pax. 

“They will stay throughout the town and they will still use the Millennium or the Heritage or the Hilton for breakouts or product launches, etc.” 

Having worked almost the length and breadth of New Zealand, Clarke says Queenstown doesn’t obey the normal rules. 

An example is high staff transience. 

“Thank God for the South Americans – the Brazilians and Argentinians have brought some stability, particularly in housekeeping.” 

Clarke intends staying in the resort and after a break may look for a more hands-on job. 

Meantime he’ll sign off his long hotel career on Saturday. 

“I’ll be hoping to come in and get a free meal,” he chuckles.