Winner of the Air New Zealand People’s Choice Award, Jet Park Hotel Hamilton Airport hotel manager David Latu sat down with the Waikato Chamber of Commerce to talk about how they stood out from the crowd at the recent Business Awards.
Zumba classes, flax-weaving tutorials, quiz nights and bingo. Not the first words that spring to mind when you hear ‘MIQ facility’. Unless you were lucky enough to spend your isolation period at Jet Park Hotel Hamilton. There, such resort-style activities were commonplace, virtually, of course, as the fantastic staff at Jet Park Hamilton strived to make the stay of Kiwis returning home enjoyable rather than an anxiety-inducing nightmare.
Like all hospitality businesses, the past two-plus years have been extremely challenging for Jet Park Hamilton. The family-run business took over the old Hamilton Airport Hotel in May 2019, operating normally for 7-8 months while simultaneously undergoing a $3m renovation. With a grand reopening in December, the future was looking bright. Then, the world changed.
“Obviously, it caught us by surprise,” said David Latu. “We went from preparing for a significant growth phase to being closed for a couple of months. After the first lockdown, we reopened the restaurant and managed to stay afloat, but we had some really tough operational decisions looming.
“Being asked to become a MIQ facility in June 2020 was a lifeline and enabled us to keep on the majority of our 28 staff throughout the pandemic. Most of them are still with us today.”
However, becoming a MIQ facility brought an entirely new set of challenges. Thankfully the Hamilton hotel had the guidance of Jet Park Hotel Auckland Airport to help with the transition. The entire staff undertook rigorous infection protection and control training, something everyone took to with enthusiasm. In fact, the only complaint from the Jet Park Hamilton staff was that the check-in process now felt too impersonal, welcoming returnees in full-body PPE while maintaining social distance. For the friendly, empathetic Jet Park team, something had to change.
“Our staff got together, and we had one goal – to be the best MIQ facility in New Zealand. To achieve this, we introduced many different initiatives to help ourselves and our guests. The anxiety levels were high in our guests. All they could think about was prison. We wanted to change that and make their stay with us a positive experience they will never forget.”
Enter the online Zumba classes. Running multiple times a week, the aerobic dance workouts helped keep the returnees’ spirits up as well as give them an opportunity to talk with other returnees in the same position. They were so popular that Jet Park Hotel Hamilton Airport introduced quiz nights, bingo, flax weaving and more. Very quickly, Jet Park managed to transform returnees’ mandatory quarantine stays into a quasi-resort holiday, and their guests loved it, as evidenced by Jet Park Hotel Hamilton Airport winning the Air New Zealand People’s Choice Award.
David credits the initiatives to his team and the support of the ownership group of Jet Park Hotel Hamilton.
“You can feel the family culture within our environment. Liz Herrman, the owner of Jet Park Hotels, focuses on people, including all stakeholders, whether they be staff, guests, or contractors. Our mantra is creating ease in journeys, and this is something we strive to uphold, both as a product and in our
On top of hosting multiple activities throughout the week for guests, Jet Park Hamilton also encouraged returnees to graffiti their rooms with messages of support, festive celebrations and expressions of gratitude to the staff. It was so uplifting that the unique artwork is not going anywhere soon.
“We actually saved a lot of the art left behind, and we’ve created a wall displaying them. The Jet Park Isolation Art Wall. We’re not going to hide away from our past as an MIQ facility, we want to celebrate it, and we proudly show off our history and invite the public to come and see it.”
On top of being the People’s Choice winner, Jet Park Hotel Hamilton Airport was also a finalist in the Service Excellence category. The staff’s dedication to going above and beyond for their guests is not merely an organisational goal. It is something each employee strives to do for every person that walks through the doors.
“Everyone in this industry has the same product to some degree, but what differentiates every hotel is the staff. Our staff are our main assets, and they are what makes or breaks our business.
“Winning the award is a recognition of all our hard work over the past two years. For all the effort we put in, to be acknowledged was satisfying, but winning People’s Choice is incredible. I want to thank the Jet Park executive team and Hamilton Airport leadership team for guiding and nominating us, and most all, my amazing team. We haven’t forgotten who we are or our part in our community. We’ve got some exciting things planned, and I can’t wait for the future.”
The future is indeed looking bright for Jet Park Hotels Hamilton. With the borders reopening to tourists and a range of innovative new offerings to be added, the former MIQ facility is sure to become one of Hamilton’s hottest hospitality spots. After a three-month close-down period to replace all the beds and furnishings, the hotel plans to welcome its first guests back in October.
The team at Jet Park Hotel Hamilton Airport are some of the pandemic’s unsung heroes. Passionate and empathetic, with the bold leadership of David Latu, they are guaranteed to be formidable competitors in future awards for years to come.