Hotelier’s simple approach to thorny issues

Accommodating: Mark Rose at The Rees

Award-winning Queenstown hotelier Mark Rose doesn’t mind washing dishes. The Rees Hotel boss says it’s about doing whatever it takes to ensure guest satisfaction, he tells Philip Chandler

If anyone’s stamped his mark on a Queenstown hotel, it’s Mark Rose.

The award-winning hotelier has run The Rees – a five-star, 150-room hotel on Frankton Road – since its inception in 2008.

It’s that rare beast, an independent hotel, and possibly just as rare for a hotel of this size, its general manager is a shareholder in the management company.

Auckland-born Rose – who also, unusually for a hotelier, owns a downtown restaurant – was named New Zealand general manager of the year at the hotel industry’s HM Awards in Australia last year.

Last month, The Rees was also named NZ’s ‘best ski hotel’ at the World Ski Awards and was only a few votes short of winning the best-in-the-world award.

“That stuff is wonderful,” Rose says, “but the most important part is that our guests enjoy staying with us.

“I’ve got great people who work here, they’re happy – you put the effort into that, and that’s the proof of it.”

Rose has a simple philosophy – “happy staff translates to happy guests”.

As a five-star hotel, he says it’s necessary to employ a lot of staff – about 110, in this case – to keep service standards up.

As well as recruiting “good people”, his policy is to pay them well – “I would suggest I pay more than all of the chains”.

“Queenstown’s an expensive place to live – our minimum wage is $17.50 an hour.

“After three months you go to $18 or you lose your job.

“We spend a lot of time on training, on making sure that, holistically, their lives go well in Queenstown.”

The result, Rose says, is good staff who mostly stay a long time.

He also believes it’s fair to pay staff well because local hotel rates “have gone through the roof”.

“We’ve got to share those profits.”

He maintains hotels also need to provide more for their guests to justify those rates.

“You can’t just say, ‘we’re in Queenstown, it’s busy, we’ll charge this’.

“There’s got to be some value to it.”

As an example, Rose says his hotel has just installed NZ’s fastest internet service – “and it’s free”.

His personal philosophy is to lead by example – “I was washing dishes this morning, I’m down there a lot.

“All the people that work here will do whatever it takes to get guest satisfaction.”

With no head office marketing team to call on, Rose is also The Rees’ one-man marketing band.

He spends about 150 days a year travelling the world, visiting people who can or do give him business.

“I could do that by technology, but it’s not the personal touch.

“Now it’s become more about saying ‘thank you’, because we are continually so busy.

“But the time will come when the market changes and you need to have those relationships.”

Rose also believes it’s important Queenstown doesn’t have all its eggs in too few baskets.

“You see someone like Donald Trump happen in America – we don’t know what’s going to happen with that market.

“We tap markets like Finland to South America. The [United Arab] Emirates is somewhere I’ve been putting a lot of effort into, of late.”

In addition to ‘value’ and ‘market mix’, Rose has a third issue which he believes Queenstown needs to address – infrastructure.

“I’m hoping that the new council is going to focus on the fact that they’re about infrastructure.

“If we get the infrastructure right, there’s no problem building the extra rooms that everyone goes on about.

“But without the infrastructure, all we’re going to do is clog the roads up further and we’ll destroy what we’ve got.”

Rose says he was fortunate to be able to buy into his hotel’s management company two-and-a-half years ago – “so we’re here for the long term”.

With a young family, however, he intends doing less travel.

Away from the hotel, the 57-year-old enjoys walking and mountain biking with his wife Rachel and 11-year-old twin daughters – his 24-year-old daughter now lives in Auckland.

A former chef, he’s also owned Italian restaurant Sasso for the past four years.

“I’m busy enough – you’d think that I would know better.

“It’s a hard game to be in but with the way the market’s gone in Queenstown, there’s not really a down-time so restaurants are doing very well.”