Surviving and Thriving Post COVID-19 with Peter Tennent, Devon Hotel and Conference Centre

We chat about collaborating with customers, partners (old and new) and regionally
James Donald
May 1, 2020

While the exact timeline for recovery is unclear, the impact of Covid-19 will eventually pass, and  people will travel again. But things will be different. We believe it’s through thoughtful discussion with diverse perspectives we can build a robust pathway there, so Yonder is bringing tourism business owners and experts from around NZ to this webinar series to gather insights about how to survive and thrive after lockdown.

Webinar #3: Peter Tennent, Devon Hotel and Conference Centre

The Devon Hotel is New Plymouth’s largest hotel, features 11 conference rooms and is home to one of the country’s busiest restaurants - Marbles Buffet - which feeds 100,000 people per year. Peter's 30 years' experience as a hotelier, his focus on the community - during which he served nine years as mayor of New Plymouth - have helped keep the Devon Hotel  at the forefront of the industry.

Devon Hotel made the difficult decision to cut 80 percent of its staff as part of its strategy to survive and thrive beyond lockdown.  

Key takeaways:

Generating new business:

  • Working together/collaboratively as a region is very important, he felt Taranaki has an advantage here as it already works closely together. Taranaki could use the fact that many people haven’t visited as a marketing message going forward.
  • Is considering new ways of providing service, such as food delivery from his restaurant. However sees reputation risks - the presentation of 5 star quality food in plastic containers may actually undermine and devalue your brand, as well as consideration of the end to end process of delivering, such as trucks, hot boxes, etc.
  • The Devon is expecting to quickly ramp up their commercial accommodation nights as businesses start to operate again. It was suggested by James that this data base of customers are an ideal place to encourage them to bring their families back and stay for a few nights.
  • Deeply understand your customers' interests, eg, shoppers, artists, garden enthusiasts, and collaborate with these related businesses (eg. a retail shop) for marketing efforts. In a way, you're creating an itinerary of things for people to do and reaching each others customer lists.
  • Peter noted that most things in Taranaki are free and he wanted to use this as an advantage to encourage people to come and explore and spend on the accommodation and food & beverage experiences Taranaki has to offer.
  • Concern was voiced over the pressure of a downwards trend in nightly room rates, but Peter said that Taranaki is already more reasonable than are regions in NZ.

Operating with COVID-19 restrictions:

  • People accessing accommodation want to know that they are going to be safe, secure, sanitised and cared for - communicate this as much as you can.
  • Don’t take no for an answer, think laterally to come up with a solution.
  • Your communication needs to be very proactive, contacting event organisers, any commercial partnerships you have established. Phone, email and chat are all essential and you need to be front footing enquiries.
  • New ways of working have been trialled, eg. serving meals in the garden (social distancing) allocating a bike and helmet to someone for the duration of their stay to ensure no spreading of illness.

Ramping up:

  • Using the time to care for his staff and look at what efficiencies can be made, including what technologies role is in that.  Peter believes that “the model we had in the past will never be there again”.
  • Peter is personally expecting people to react pretty quickly, jump back into their car and think "let's do this". He said “plan for the worse and hope for the best”
  • The Devon is focussing on their core strengths and “keep it as tight as we can” with regards to cashflow so that they are a sustainable business who can look at maintaining current staff and employing more in the future. Peter stressed that in order to be sustainable the business needs to be profitable which, in todays world, may involve moving quickly, being nimble and showing you care.
  • 2021 was looking promising as conferences planned in 2020 have been moved out a year rather than being cancelled. Whether international travellers will be able to attend is an unknown.

About the Speakers

Peter Tennent, Devon Hotel and Conference Centre -

Peter is the owner of the Devon hotel as well as taking a governance role in a number of trusts and community groups. He remains committed to making a positive difference in the community - he is the patron of a number of organisations, and has significant sponsorship and philanthropic interests. Peter also acted as Mayor of New Plymouth for 9 years helping the city come of age, eventually topping most economic and social performance tables across the board, judged the best community on the planet, and continues to pick up accolades and awards.

James Donald, Yonder - James is co-founder of Yonder, and is on a mission to revolutionise sales and customer service in tourism businesses. He is a passionate advocate for using technology to work smarter not harder.

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