Quakes bring security for moteliers
In the last of a four-part series on businesses that have learnt to thrive in the new post-quake environment, CECILE MEIER talks to a motel owner.
Before the February 2011 earthquakes, Christchurch's motels were not doing so well.
About 60 per cent of owners had to take on a part-time or fulltime job on the side to make ends meet, according to data from Motel Association of New Zealand (Manz).
Avonhead Lodge motel owners Sally and Allan Clark say moteliers were fearing for their future, and the earthquakes "have been the saviour for many".
In May 2010, the occupancy of Clarks' motels was at its lowest - 24 per cent, and January 2011 was the "worst January ever in terms of occupancy" at 41 per cent.
But then the big earthquake happened, and families, police officers, emergency staff, civil servants and journalists all needed a place to stay.
Despite having computers and telephones down for several days, and staff members missing, the Clarks had to take as many people in as they could.
"It was mayhem," Sally says.
Families who did not know each other shared rooms, and she had to turn people down.
"It was like a jigsaw puzzle to fit everybody in."
Manz chief executive Michael Baines says the motel industry has been catering for different needs after the quakes.
When the emergency rush receded, families were in need of a place to stay while their houses were being repaired, and engineers, insurance agents and assessors started to come in.
"Companies take out long-term accommodation contracts with moteliers so they can secure a room for their staff from out of town. A number of engineers stay in Christchurch three days a week but live in Wellington or Auckland."
The Clarks say that attendance at Avonhead Lodge has sat around 85 per cent since February 2011. This has helped them buy two flat units right next door, upgrade most of the 13 rooms, invest in new carports, and rebuild a garage shed.
As a result, the motel's rating has gone up from 3 1/2 stars to four.
However, the new environment has brought its challenges.
Families often find out they have to vacate their house for repairs on short notice, and bookings often need adjustments.
"I get a lot of holes at the last minute," Sally says.
Baines says many Christchurch moteliers were building up debt before the earthquakes happened and had to put maintenance plans on hold.
"It was a bit rugged before the quakes, and they've got to make up for their losses."
Moteliers can now keep their maintenance up to date, which is "an expensive business at the moment" with builders, plumbers and painters in high demand, he says.
A drop in the number of visitors in 2008 made apparent that too many rooms had been built for Christchurch's accommodation needs, Baines says.
Now there are probably too few rooms, "but the council has to make sure the balance is maintained".
The challenge will be to maintain high occupancy rates in the long-term, Baines says. But occupancy statistics are looking good, and tourists have started coming back.