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Langham eyes Auckland Waterfront

By Michael Hooper

New Zealand’s top hotel, as judged in several different awards, is shutting down its brand in New Zealand this November, however it is not the end of the Langham name here. Rebranding the five-star 411-room Auckland property to Cordis will give the Langham Hospitality Group (LHG) room to look at expansion, says Marketing Vice President Simon Manning. The wealthy, Hong Kong-based family company is casting eyes over the Auckland waterfront, and might consider towns further afield such as Blenheim, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown for Langham boutique or Cordis business brand hotels.

Key to the Langham re-branding is the growth of the country’s tourism, especially Auckland’s. “The city has become more relevant than it has ever been,” says Simon Manning.  “It is now the gateway to the Pacific, and no longer the end of the line”. He believes the emergence of a larger middle income bracket “in all the Asian cities” will channel more travellers and tourists through Auckland as a springboard to the rest of the Pacific.

Manning predicts a doubling of the already eye-watering room rates in Auckland. Expect to pay $800 for a room in a new boutique Langham when it eventuates, he suggests, quoting current rates for the Langham Melbourne reaching $400, and averaging “in the mid three hundreds”.

“The accommodation market in Auckland is going to be strapped, especially in high season. The airlines have the capacity now. More businesses have expanded into New Zealand. There will be a core number of upper-scale five-star hotels to service business travel, but as room rates rise we believe, as a company, you will see the emergence of a luxury market, in a boutique format, on the waterfront. That will lead to a new market segment – rooms of 45 to 50 square metres on the water. We will do another Langham when the opportunity arises.”

The company seems unconcerned about the potential loss of brand presence in the meantime, optimistic that Cordis will have sufficient association with LHG to maintain the brand. “In our Sydney hotel, the second biggest demographic is New Zealanders; the right people who have money know us already. In Hong Kong our eighth biggest market is New Zealanders. We are the only luxury hotel operator that does a sales mission here every two years.”

It’s fair to say that the change was foreseeable; while the Langham remains unsurpassed for service, the old Sheraton Auckland building (even owned back then by LHG’s Great Eagle Group) has become gazumped in the luxury room stakes, facing pressure from new builds such as the waterfront Park Hyatt, Sheraton and Sofitel.  Even Auckland’s newly re-branded but still concussed Grand Millennium has some closets that rival the size of the Langham’s pre-fabricated bathrooms. “There isn’t a five-star luxury hotel in Auckland at the moment – we are as near as it comes,” says Simon Manning. “If we kept this as a Langham, we would not have the opportunity to extend it, and we know that Auckland needs rooms badly. We have the opportunity in the future to grow the size of this hotel.”

The company is “permanently sniffing” says Manning for the 100 to 150 room site that could be the next Langham in Auckland.  “Is there a deal on the table at the moment? No. When the day comes, there will (again) be a Langham here. When it comes to making a bid, there are only two or three people who have the kind of money our chairman has.”

The refurbished Cordis Auckland will immediately get higher room rates and greater market share, says the VP. “The consumer will end up with a better product, with a different badge. We want to make this bigger and more successful.” With ownership of the adjacent carpark building, adjoining spare land and the option for at least three more floors, there is scope to make grander use of the K Road/Symonds Street corner block.  

For Langham leisure and business fans, managing director Franz Mascarenhas, who remains with his rebranded team, assures that the same service standards will apply, even if the $35 million refurb hoovers up the classic décor and replaces it with a brighter, more contemporary style (overseen by local designers Space Studio). “It will become more casual and comfortable,” adds Manning.  The famous afternoon teas will live on, in what will become the lobby lounge, but the old Langham Palm Court denizens will just have to adjust their sets – from Wedgewood to Swarovski.