Queenstown-based Skyline Enterprises stretches its tentacles, or rather, its luges, as far as Quebec, as Philip Chandler found during a recent holiday in Canada. After surviving a luge ride, he checked out how it’s tracking
It might seem odd that you can ride a luge in Canada and feel a proud Queenstowner at the same time.
But that’s because this luge, spectacularly located in French-speaking Mont-Tremblant Resort, is owned by Queenstown-based Skyline Enterprises.
Built for $4 million by local contractor/Skyline director Grant Hensman, whose dad Hylton pioneered the Rotorua and Queenstown luges, it was the company’s first overseas luge when it opened in 2003.
In Skyline’s history, former chairman Barry Thomas says it was “important in the process of putting our toe in the water to see what acceptance the luge might have internationally”.
Coincidentally, this year’s operation – it only goes in the non-ski season months of May till October – was run by Thomas’ son Lyndon, who was ops manager when it opened.
Speaking last month, he was thrilled that luge ride numbers were tracking at a record 325,000 – “that’s the first time we’ve ever crossed 300,000 luge rides”.
When the luge started, “we were like total aliens because they’d never had an English-speaking business here”.
Now it’s about Mont-Tremblant’s most popular summer attraction.
Amazingly, it only operates full-time in July and August, but in that timeframe “every day’s a weekend because it’s predominantly a holiday period”.
Thomas attributes this season’s success to some operational changes, like introducing zigzag queuing to reduce the off-putting perception of one long line, and incentivising three rides per customer.
He says the toughest challenge is attracting staff, though he believes they’re better off than most resort businesses.
There were five Kiwis in his complement this season of about 30, including Queenstowner Logan Chandler, who was ops manager.
Like all resort businesses, three per cent of revenue goes to Tremblant Resort Association, which markets the resort, puts on free events and keeps it clean.
Thomas: “I think it’s a bit of a bugbear for some operators, but when you have a blues festival the village is absolutely packed, and that doesn’t happen for free.”
Scoop was shouted a free luge ride by Skyline Enterprises
Kiwi tourism offshore
Skyline’s luge is one of the few Kiwi tourist activities that have been successfully exported overseas.
Besides seasonal pop-up luges in Canada in Mont-Tremblant and Calgary, the company operates huge luges in Sentosa, Singapore, and Tongyeong, in South Korea.
It’s building another Korean luge in Busan and progressing sites in Sheffield, England, Swansea, Wales, and in Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur, while also adding a ‘coaster’ – like a monorail – in Sentosa.
Skyline boss Geoff McDonald notes that Sentosa’s really gained traction since adding an extra lift a year-and-a-half ago.
He says the overseas luges “more than wash their face”.
As expected, there are copycat sites in South Korea, “but the majority are on sites we looked at and rejected and/or they’re seasonal”.
McDonald thinks the key to success is that the luge is such a simple concept – “it’s what we did as kids, belting down a hill, whether on a bit of cardboard or a trolley”.
And anyone can ride it, from five to 105, “and you control your own experience”.
He says the board’s not of a mind to franchise the operations.
“The view is we’re better off to control the operation as much as we can – the brand and the quality of it and where it goes”.
In some places, like Sheffield and Busan, it’s also partnering with other operators.
Meanwhile, international luge boss Danny Luke’s about to check out five or six more potential sites, mostly in Europe, the UK and Ireland.