From a hotel sales background, Mandy Kennedy has diversified into major community roles during her Queenstown years. As she prepares to take up a big charity role in Christchurch, she tells Philip Chandler what motivates her and how she first met her hubby
One of life’s great enthusiasts, Mandy Kennedy has made a telling contribution to Queenstown over the past 12 years.
Queenstown Trails Trust chief executive for the past three-and-a-half years, she leaves for Christchurch next weekend with husband David and son Jack where she’ll head another leading community organisation.
Initially, the move was for David’s new job at Lincoln University’s hospitality company. Typical of Mandy, however, she’s also landed on her feet – big-time.
From June 12 she’ll head prominent charity Ronald McDonald House South Island.
Mandy first worked in Queenstown for two years in the early ’90s as sales coordinator of the then Holiday Inn hotel, now Mercure Resort.
Ironically, during that stint she first clapped eyes on her husband-to-be who was then managing the Queenstown Winter Festival.
“At the WinterFest ball at Lakeland [now Rydges], I was dressed as an elf, driving the elevator – I met David then, but it didn’t register.”
Mandy worked for several chains during a stellar hotel career, including a major role as Auckland-based sales and marketing manager for Accor’s fast-growing portfolio in New Zealand and Fiji.
In that capacity, she was introduced to Queenstowner Kaye Parker, who was then chief executive of children’s health research charity Cure Kids.
“Honestly, from the moment I sat down with her, we were always going to do business with her.”
From that meeting Accor became a major Cure Kids sponsor and is to this day.
Mandy says that due to David’s then-role at Destination Queenstown, and hers at various hotel chains, “we had a similar group of friends”.
“We used to travel around the world together, so really marrying him was marrying my best friend.”
Fortunately, she found an excuse to join David in Queenstown while also continuing her hotel career.
In 2005, Accor was opening the country’s first five-star Sofitel hotel in the resort, and Mandy landed the job as its first sales and marketing director.
Around the time Jack arrived in 2007, she stepped down to work for herself for about three years.
In one role, she was sponsorship and marketing manager for WinterFest director Simon Green – “what a legend that man is”.
Parker, who was now running the Queenstown Trails Trust, also asked Mandy to write a tourism strategy for its funding submission to the government.
As a result, the trust received $1.8 million to help build its 100km-plus trails network.
Mandy rejoined the hotel world for Hilton’s opening, as business development director.
Four years ago, she started full-time with the trails trust, initially as marketing director before taking over from Parker as CEO.
From writing the tourism strategy, Mandy says “I saw quite quickly that this trail network would be incredibly valuable for the people of Queenstown”.
As CEO, she oversaw the writing of the trust’s 10-year strategic plan.
“That’s hugely important because it gives a road map, particularly because Queenstown’s changing at speed, so things like these trail networks need to be front of mind.”
Meanwhile, Mandy says she saw the resort from a different perspective when she became a parent.
“So when Jack turned up at playcentre, they needed money so I did some fundraising for them.
“Then Jack joined cubs and I got voted in as chair of the scouts group and we changed that around a wee bit.”
Latterly she’s been trustee of the new Baby Box trust which provides support for families of new-borns.
Talking of her community work, she says “it’s not something that I deliberately set out to do”.
“But I realised that that’s what I enjoy – I enjoy making it better for people, so if I can do that in any little way I can, I’m happy as a clam.”
Ronald McDonald House South Island, which accommodates the families of children who have to travel to Christchurch or Invercargill for hospital treatment, is an extension of that role.
Scoring that job, she says, is “a dream come true”.
“Since it was announced, so many local people have called me and said, ‘oh my gosh, Mandy, this is amazing, do you know I or someone else have used the service?’
“So that makes me happy.
“It’s sad to go, but I’ve always enjoyed change and I’ve always enjoyed a new challenge but, to me, Queenstown is always going to be here.”