Renovation gamble pays off

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 12:58 03/04/2014
Mark Brady
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
PACKING THEM IN: Otto Barron, owner of Otto’s Backpackers on Haven Road which had a bumper summer.

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The success of an internationals only "luxury" backpackers in Nelson City has surprised even its owner.

Gloucester native Otto Barron has set up Otto's Backpackers on Haven Rd, in the former Haven House Bed and Breakfast.

He moved to New Zealand a year ago, after travelling the world extensively.

He bought the B-grade heritage building, as well as the land and business, in May last year. He then set to restoring it.

He cleared trees and bush behind the house, and cut in 100 steps to create a camp site on the hill which offered guests an ocean view.

The land is on the site of the ancient Maori pa, Matangi Awhio.

Barron opened Otto's Backpackers in December. It offers dorm rooms, the camp site and some guests sleep in their own vehicles on the property.

He painted the interior brightly and built the outdoor courtyard. Otto's also offers activities each night, like movies and shared BBQs. The dorms have their own bathrooms.

"It's luxury for an affordable price."

Over the past 3 months he has been "super, super busy" and "more success than I ever imagined."

Over the summer period, he had between 20 and 40 people staying a night, and would have to turn away about 10 a day.

Barron only allows international backpackers to stay.

"I liked the idea of building a guesthouse to host people from the other side of the world, and share with them my knowledge of New Zealand and New Zealand culture. You have got to ask people questions when you get a 45 year old Kiwi guy turn up at the hostel. Are you going to add to the atmosphere?"

Likewise, he feared groups of New Zealanders would "come for a weekend, get trashed and cause a huge mess."

Barron prefers his international guests who stay at least a week so it feels "more like a family".

He had 16 guests who were working in Nelson staying for over a month.

Barron previously worked in hostels and hotels as well a property valuer in London.

He bought the house for $250,000 less than what the previous owner paid for it. He paid $1 for the business and $1 for the land. The house was in a "horrific" condition, when he bought it, and there was no outdoor area.

He believed the house and the land was a "massive" part of Nelson's history, and that no-one else had paid much attention to its importance.

He wanted to restore features of it to what he had seen in original photos from the late 1800s.

He bought the property upfront, using savings and an inheritance. He said overheads were low and he was making about $3500 a week.

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The biggest draw was the location.

"The location will pay for itself eventually. It's so good. I worked in property and the one thing you look for is the location."

Most of his guests would walk by and inquire. Many had moved to Otto's from other backpackers in Nelson and would often return after visiting other parts of the country.

- Nelson

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