One of Australia’s oldest family businesses, Pinetrees Lodge, has just won the title of Number 1 Hotel in Australia in TripAdvisor’s 2017 Travellers’ Choice Awards.
Sixth generation owner Dani Rourke and her husband Luke Hanson, run the largest of the lodges on Lord Howe Island, which has provided families, couples, and adventurers with a unique “sand between your toes” holiday since the 1890s. Luke says “you can’t beat genuine family hospitality direct from the owners of a hotel that’s been hosting guests for over 130 years”.
Following Pinetrees in TripAdvisor’s Top 25 Hotel list are some of Australia’s most luxurious 5-star hotels, including Ovolo Woolloomooloo, Park Hyatt Sydney, Qualia Resort, Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, Lizard Island Resort, and Park Hyatt Melbourne. Luke says “it’s reassuring that a small family business with a modest marketing budget can take out the major hotel chains and expensive luxury lodges. It’s also reassuring that TripAdvisor’s ranking system can allow an independent hotel to reach the top – it suggests that money and size don’t override genuine guest feedback.”
Dani’s ancestors arrived on Lord Howe in 1842 and acquired the Pinetrees land in 1848 for two tons of potatoes. They began taking guests in the 1890s and every generation since has transformed the lodge to match their own style and interests, without changing the relaxed and friendly culture. Dani says “we see ourselves as custodians of a very special place and sleep well knowing that the only option we have is to pass it on to our children in 25 years’ time”.
Since taking over the family business in 2011, Dani and Luke have completed major renovations, introduced a long list of successful event weeks (such as the Ocean Swim Weeks with Trevor Hendy), changed the style of food by hiring chefs from One Hat restaurants, built a large organic market garden, published a cookbook, and attracted some very talented staff.
Dani says “our renovations were substantial, and our architect was spot on. The longer he sat and watched our guests and staff go about their day, the more he removed from his original plans. The result was the sympathetic restoration of the main lodge and an elegant upgrade of our accommodation, social spaces and gardens. It’s the best thing we’ve done.”
Trends in hotels and restaurants come and go, but Pinetrees has been constant in its offering for many decades. Luke says “we provide guests with comfortable accommodation, excellent food and wine, authentic family service and a good selection of world-class activities for all age groups – within minutes of the lodge. We have many social spaces where guests can make friends, such as our boatshed deck on the Lord Howe Island Lagoon, and we don’t distract guests with Wifi or mobile phones”.
Pinetrees offers guests the perfect subtropical beach holiday with world-class swimming, snorkelling, surfing, diving, fishing, and kayaking. In the milder months, they offer one of the best walking destinations in Australia with a diverse range of World Heritage listed landscapes in a compact area, including the 875 vertical metre climb of Mt Gower, which is one of the most stunning and daunting day walks in the world.
Luke says “over the last 5 years we’ve introduced wellness, photography, food & wine, adventure and dive weeks for small groups of 15 guests, and each day we guide our guests to the best places on the island. In 2016 we hosted the inaugural Australian Geographic Expedition to Lord Howe with scientists from CSIRO, and it was so successful (we discovered new insect species) that we’re running a follow-up expedition in 2017. Also, this year, we’re hosting the inaugural Seven Peaks Walk – our new luxury guided walking adventure to all of Lord Howe’s volcanic peaks over 6 days, with plenty of time for swimming, snorkelling and kayaking.”
Lord Howe Island is completely crime free, and Pinetrees doesn’t use locks on doors or room keys. In such a relaxed and trusting environment, guests can put their kids to bed without baby sitters and return to the verandah for dinner and dessert. Dani says “some of the little things we do go a long way – early kids’ dinners let parents have some adult time, with an extra bottle of wine over dinner with other parents. Often those guests return together the following year.”
Dani and Luke were astonished by the news of their Number 1 ranking. Luke says “it’s notable that we’ve had no relationship with TripAdvisor, and have still become TripAdvisor’s Number 1 Hotel in Australia. We decided early on that if TripAdvisor was going to be a platform for anonymous independent reviews, then we would let them be just that. We’ve never paid TripAdvisor for anything or used their professional services, and only a few times have we written responses to reviews.”
Since being listed in TripAdvisor’s Top 25 Hotels in Australia in January 2016, the impact TripAdvisor has had on Pinetrees is significant. In the 2016 calendar year, the lodge’s occupancy increased from 83% to 90%, the accommodation revenue increased by 13%, employee retention increased by 42%, and the quality of Pinetrees’s employees is exponentially higher. The latter is the most important. Luke says “in our experience, guests don’t write TripAdvisor reviews on Pinetrees unless they’re absolutely compelled, and I think their experience with our staff – through genuine friendliness and sharp, yet relaxed, service – is above and beyond their expectations. Where we once struggled to find good staff, we now have CVs arriving every week from some of the best in the business, and that flows on to our guest experience.”
Dani says “our problem now is that guests will have much higher expectations from Pinetrees, and we can only go down in the TripAdvisor rankings. Still, it’s not a bad problem to have. Luke and I have never won as much as a chicken raffle, so we’ll certainly enjoy being the best in Australia for the next 12 months.”
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For more information please visit www.pinetrees.com.au. Please call Amy Miller at ADM Communications on 0415 913 273 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for interviews with Dani Rourke and Luke Hanson from Pinetrees Lodge.