Okoroire hotel sells to Chinese company

PETRICE TARRANT AND CAITLIN WALLACE
Last updated 10:10 13/08/2014
 Okoroire hotel
FAIRFAX NZ

COUNTRY FARE: The Okoroire hotel dates from the 1880s.

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A Chinese buyer has picked up South Waikato's iconic Okoroire Hot Springs Hotel.

Owner Hugh Rhodes said the long-standing family business, consisting of ther 1880s vintage hotel which can sleep up to 60 guests and nine hole golf course, will officially be handed over to Kingstown Volcano Springs Limited on August 15.

The family business was passed onto Rhodes about 10 years ago.

But due to family reasons the 58-year old decided to put all 72 acres on the market.

The sale, for $3.3 million, began eight months ago but needed Overseas Investment Office approval to proceed, Rhodes said.

Rhodes said while they have made many changes, the structure of the facility has never changed.

"We never changed the character of it, it's an old English hotel it's a part of New Zealand heritage and to change it would be financial suicide," he said.

In passing on a piece of family history he said he had faith in the new foreign owners. South Waikato News understands the company plans on turning the hotel into a boutique spa hotel.

"I think they'll do a great job, they have done it to 38 other locations in the country," Rhodes said.

The sale follows closely on approval for Lochinver Station near Taupo to be sold which has sparked fierce pre-election debate on the amount of New Zealand farmland sold to overseas owners.

Federated Farmers is the latest to wade in after opposition from Conservative Party leader Colin Craig, NZ First leader Winston Peters and Labour leader David Cunliffe to Shanghai Pengxin signing up to buy the station 13,800-hectare station for $70 million.

But despite the heated debate of foreign ownership, Rhodes believes the bad press is "ridiculous".

Rhodes said "obvious" approval of foreign ownership led on to his belief the investment will do wonders for the district.

Not only will it provide employment but also increased tourism and boosted economic growth, Rhodes said.

South Waikato mayor Neil Sinclair has been involved with the hotel for a "long time" and said the Chinese organisation that purchased it had many other boutique spa hotels around the country.

He said the company told him it had looked at surrounding areas but chose the South Waikato because of its scenic location.

Foreign ownership can become too "emotional" for some people, he said.

"You can't take the land away, that's number one."

He said it is certainly not a new concept for this district.

"Here in the South Waikato we have had foreign ownership of farms for the past 40 years...so we have a long long record of foreign ownership."

He said the district needs investment if it is to avoid being "taken over" in the economic stakes.

"We lack high quality accommodation and people visit us then move on to Rotorua and Taupo."

He said he hopes the new owners keep the golf course and spa facilities going.

"I'm excited that his hotel will be the start of people recognising that you can stay in the South Waikato and do all your bits without unpacking your suitcase everyday."

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