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Southern pride is a thing … Speights may have inflated the “good on ya mate” character and humour of Central, but the understated warmth and humour captured by the Speights campaign still connects.

Right here, in the Public Bar at the Ranfurly Hotel I can’t help but smile.

There’s a large sign in black print that says ‘Ladies’ with an arrow pointing left … amusing for me in the moment because the local females are all left of the sign. Priceless … good on ya mate. There they sit segregated with their individual Speights Quart, flutter on the pokies, a quick smoke outside – and a chortle at one-another’s new year plight. Delightful.

The men, right of the sign, are riveted to the cricket or the buzz of the TAB machine.

As the only female right of the sign, I’m scrutinising an old-tattered wall poster celebrating the great pubs of New Zealand. I recognise most of them and note that several are closed.

I also wonder at the high-percentage of hospitality businesses for sale along the Otago Rail Trail and I marvel at our oddly quiet experience for early January.

Bar, the long wait for meals at Chatto Creek, the Rail Trail has felt less than half full … and the weather has been stunning.

Our trip, not my first, has been supported by Trail Journeys and what a fantastic support they have been.

When we reach Middlemarch – it is clear, the hospitality, personal interest and care provided by Trail Journeys is outstanding. Our Trail Journey experience is the sort that turns you into a social media promoter – the type of marketing that spins the economic wheel. This is a business that deserves to grow.

Equally impressive was the hospitality provided by Bruce and Esmé Macdonald at the Lauder School B&B. It’s interesting isn’t it … that we know their name?

I’ve become a Lauder School B&B ‘promoter’ because Bruce and Esmé were hospitable.  They shared their life story, took an interest in ours – we shared names, jokes and our shared pride in our children. They understand the importance of creating a connection, and for that we want to see them do well.

I know, for some, customer numbers are increasing (I would argue modestly) but I still see the Taverns and Pubs of the Rail Trail as a metaphor for a wider Kiwi problem in Hospitality. There remains a tendency to complain about being busy, and a thinly veiled suspicion and even low-level-loathing of the out-of-town-punters – the very punters that are keeping their business alive.

Customers are work – but they also mean cash, and the sort of cash that dribbles down to everyone. They are also people who are visiting your valley or hometown.

If I was to single out the primary let-down of the Trail – it would (ironically) be the lack of soul – the lack of hospitality and warmth provided by the owners, managers and Front of House teams in the Taverns and Pubs.

It’s not that we experienced anything directly hostile, it’s only that the potential hospitality ‘wow’ moments weren’t expressed.

We also significantly underspent. In our line of business, we often say that one of the biggest costs to the hospitality industry is the cost of not selling to customers. Even the busiest hospitality businesses can’t afford to be inhospitable … having a high-average spend is not guaranteed by a certificate from Trip Advisor.

If you are not connecting with your customers, you’re probably not increasing your average spend per customer. Several of the Taverns and Pubs of the Rail Trail are hemorrhaging money and they are hiding behind counter service. The approach is lethal in a seasonally challenged environment.

A sole focus on service is unlikely to make any business great; a focus on hospitality is immediately infectious.

How many business owners are actively training their team to think about how their punters feel? I know of one, but I can’t mention them because we are mates.

So, as I sit here at the Ranfurly Bar wondering what makes a great Kiwi Pub, I wonder if the locals have given up on the ‘character’ of the biking punter … too fleeting to invest? Too city or international to be important?

The meals are great, the wine and beer perfect … but I wanted to feel more welcome.

Do the owners believe that, like the old poster, the great Kiwi Pub is in tatters? What makes a great Kiwi Pub?

What needs to happen to make a business owner care?

One moment of hospitality shared on Instagram or Facebook reaches thousands … and great hospitality doesn’t have to be locally directed to feel good.

Sometimes it’s what we give that shapes a stronger local identity and pride.

Central Otago has the character and infrastructure to provide the greatest hospitality in the world, and several locals do clearly take hospitality seriously – the grade one pathway still has enormous untapped potential.

Imagine if everyone lifted their hospitality vibe 10% – they consistently smiled, made eye-contact and used a punters name … profit margins would increase and even spilt shifts could feel rewarding. Punters would cease to be mere punters, but people who care about your business.

Hospitality – it’s the slumbering spirit of the south.


By Alexis O’Connell -Co-founder of The Hospitality Company (8.1.2019)