Daintree Eco Lodge a labour of love for new owners
Colonial Leisure Group’s Scott Campbell first saw the Daintree Eco Lodge and Spa in June last year and immediately fell in love with it.
“Obviously the property speaks for itself,” he said of the Daintree Rainforest eco-resort, about 40 minutes north of Port Douglas. “It’s an amazingly peaceful place to be.”
“[My wife and I] spent the night here on our first occasion, and listening to the sounds of the forest up close was a truly amazing experience.
“I think also, I could see its potential. I really liked the fact that [CLG] had the opportunity to offer a fresh perspective on how things could be run. For the first time in 20 years, we would be able to make changes and I could sense from the staff, even on this first occasion, they were excited about that.”
As Opens external link in new windowThe Newsport reported on August 1 last year, former owners Terry and Cathy Maloney were forced into receivership after overspending on their pioneering Aboriginal employment program, Aboriginal Champions. Expressions of interest to purchase the property closed on July 12 last year, with liquidators KPMG eventually announcing CLG as the new owner.
CLG made the purchase in early September 2013, making the Eco Lodge the second north Queensland luxury resort in Group owner Christopher Morris’ stable of hospitality and leisure assets around Australia.
Among the others: Daintree General Store and Hotel (bought in November 2013), Orpheus Island Resort, Echo Entertainment’s Jupiter’s Townsville casino (bought in January this year for $70 million), 15 hotels in Victoria and Western Australia, a brewery in WA, and Nautilus Aviation helicopter business.
In a Fairfax Media interview in August last year, Mr Morris said he believed in a North Queensland resurgence. As The Australian reported, “CLG has spent more than $40m in Northern Queensland over the past three years. The investment was influenced by the Newman government’s focus on supporting tourism in Queensland, the company said.”
Though the Lodge was voted the best in the world at the 2012 World Travel Awards in December 2012, one of more than 50 accolades the resort has received over the past 15 years, Mr Campbell (now General Manager) said “it was bought with the knowledge that it was in need of some TLC.”
“As a group, we really enjoy finding ‘fading stars’ and rebuilding them to their former glory, and this is certainly one such project,” he said.
Before heading north last year, Mr Campbell was involved in rebuilding a similar ‘fading star’, the Robert Burns Hotel of Collingwood, “an institution on the Melbourne dining scene for almost 20 years and one of the first restaurants to specialise in authentic Spanish cuisine.”
“Unfortunately, due to a change of hands, the business, its reputation and décor slipped into a state of neglect. We spent nine months renovating the building and rebuilding its brand. To help with its authenticity we sought out Spanish professionals to front up our kitchen, menus and front of house.
“In the two years since, we have received great reviews and brought the business back into the forefront of the local F&B industry.
“CLG has done similar things with Melbourne venues including The Botanical, The Skinny Dog, The Half Moon Hotel & Perth icon, Print Hall. Orpheus Island continues to be a work in progress as this year, we begin work on its southern villas.”
Mr Campbell said all staff were retained in the purchase of both the Daintree Eco Lodge and Spa and Daintree General Store and Hotel, though “on this occasion, there will not be a plan to rebuild the businesses ‘like for like’.”
“From a business perspective, having the two properties gives us more playing power with our suppliers,” he explained. “In time, we hope to use this to provide a larger variety of products in the store, better value dishes in the restaurants etc.”
“From a customer perspective, we aim to offer a variety of dining experiences. Guests staying at the lodge will now have the option to dine at the Hotel and charge back to their room. And the Store will help to break down the idea that the Lodge is exclusive to its guests by driving sales from its booking desk. And by sharing the cost on ‘big ticket items’ like entertainment, we hope to be able to offer a variety of events more often.
“With the two brands working together, hopefully we can make a louder noise and drive tourists to our part of the Daintree – helping not only us but our neighbours, too.”
Other changes include:
Building on the ‘experiential’ side of guests’ stays, offering unique tours and adventures in the local area;
Bringing CLG’s Food & Beverage knowledge to the Eco Lodge property, enhancing this experience for guests and locals;
Installing tap beer in the General Store, and operate one side of the business as the ‘Daintree Village Hotel’. An improved menu will incorporate pub classics as well as some local bush tucker style meals for locals and visitors alike;
Entertainment nights at the Hotel, plus special dinners on a regular basis;
Improving the General Store side of the business; stocking a full range of convenience products as well as fresh produce from local suppliers. This product will also be available through the Eco Lodge and Hotel kitchens; and
Extensive refurbishments to refresh the Lodge Restaurant, walkways, and accommodation, and a more ‘purpose built’ Spa “that will better capture the essence of the surrounding nature.”
“Soft refurbishments have begun, and staggered larger projects are expected to begin in the coming weeks, with plans for a new boardwalk almost complete,” Mr Campbell said.
“We want to make sure refurbishments are as least disruptive as possible whilst respecting the property. In this light, I feel we are still getting to know the property and have not all agreed on a final ‘Master Plan’. However, we would like to have works out of the way by this time next year, ready for the 2015 season.
“Sometimes, the best getaways are in your own backyard! We see ourselves close enough to be accessible but far away enough to feel like a mini adventure. Coupled with great food (and soon, entertainment) we think our Daintree properties will be everything you need for a weekend recharge.”