Between Townsville and Cairns on the coast of Queensland in Australia is a little patch of paradise called Mission Beach. It’s the gateway to one of Australia’s most beautiful islands of the Cassowary Coast, Dunk Island, from where you can explore the Great Barrier Reef. And it backs on to the pristine World Heritage rainforest at the Clump Mountain National Park.
There are few places in the world that are more deserving of the title, ‘Sanctuary Retreat’. It’s here that you will find a hotel designed to make guests feel they are part of the rainforest. In this edition of ‘Rooms with a View’, we spoke with Paul Verity at Sanctuary Retreat, Mission Beach to talk about the hotel’s own mission for conservation.
The natural environment in which your hotel sits is quite stunning, Paul. Tell us about your hotel and the experiences on offer…
Sanctuary Retreat is set on 50 acres of natural tropical rainforest. Less than 2.5% of the land area is actually used for the hotel with the rest set aside under a perpetual Conservation Agreement for wildlife preservation. So by staying at Sanctuary, guests are helping preserve this rare and threatened natural environment. It’s why it’s called Sanctuary Retreat. As well as a wilderness experience, Sanctuary is also Australia’s biggest yoga retreat centre and we have yoga schools from all over Australia come to retreat here. We’ve found that yogis really appreciate being in such a natural environment to practise yoga and having a range of accommodation styles means that our guests only need to share a similar interest rather than a similar budget.
A meeting of minds and hearts then! And Sanctuary Retreat calls itself one of the best places in Australia to see cassowary in the wild. The cassowary is an amazing creature. Have you had any encounters with them or other local wildlife?
Cassowaries are an iconic rainforest keystone species who have inhabited this area long before us and hopefully long after. Being such long-lived and visually distinct creatures as well as being very territorial without any fear of humans, we get to know them well, and see them most days. We watch them pair up and produce chicks and watch them grow up under their father’s watchful eye. It’s quite a privilege to be able to live and share their natural habitat. And of course it’s wonderful to observe our guests reactions as they see their first cassowary in the wild.
Indeed, quite an extraordinary experience for all! Your hotel combines natural and eco-friendly experiences with the latest in technology, and you even have a Google tour of the hotel on your website. How do you balance the use of technology with the needs of conservation?
Our business has always been about been about conservation which is pretty low tech. Essentially, it’s mostly ‘leave it alone’, and it will thrive without you. Although after a couple of cyclones (both Category 5 systems, Cyclone Larry in 2006, and Cyclone Yasi in 2011), we did have to intervene with tree planting and weed clearing to give nature a helping hand. However, we have always been early tech adopters such as recycling water for non-potable purposes, solar energy and providing free WiFi for our guests.
And connectivity is always in demand these days. What about SiteMinder, has that helped?
SiteMinder has been a partner in helping with the plethora of new distribution avenues that have opened up in recent years, and consolidating them into one easily managed channel. It allows us to focus more on the guest experience.
What changes in guest experiences do see on the horizon for travellers?
There’s no doubt that such things as free WiFi have gone from nice to have, to something that is essential to have – a human right even. So we spent a good deal of money deploying WiFi in the forest so that most rooms have access to it. We have always provided an experiential stay for our guests, so that won’t change. To some extent, I think this conservation business model has been ahead of the curve, so we kind of wait for travellers to catch up with us rather than the other way around.
It’s always great to be able to lay the pathway for changes in perception. Is that what you see as your ongoing mission for the hotel?
Sanctuary Retreat, like many other accommodation providers in the region, has suffered due to the global financial crisis in 2008, and the high value of the Australian dollar in recent years, which has made it difficult for many of us that depend on European travellers that came to Australia for the unique wilderness experience on offer. However, we are delighted that 2015 is the best year for us since 2009, and we have been able to achieve that without sacrificing our original conservation land use model. Sometimes just staying the course and believing that you are on the right path, despite adversity, is the way to go if it’s something you really believe in.
A compelling argument! Thanks Paul, we congratulate you on your strength in adversity and your commitment to environmental protection.
If you’d like to share your experiences and ideas about the hotel sector as part of our ‘Rooms with a View’ series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you!