Southern tourism company Real Journeys has ventured on to
unfamiliar trails with its purchase of Cardrona Alpine
Resort. ODT Wanaka bureau chief Mark Price asks chief
executive Richard Lauder why the company got into the ski
Richard Lauder, chief executive of Queenstown-based Real
Journeys and acting chief executive of Cardrona Alpine
Resort, outside the base building. Photo by Mark Price.
Two years ago, Real Journeys chief executive Richard
Lauder got back on the skis and hit the slopes with his
Then, two months ago he was leading the company as it bought
its very own skifield - Cardrona Alpine Resort between Wanaka
The purchase price has never been disclosed but the business
was estimated by previous owners, Australian-based Vealls
Ltd, to have a value of $35 million.
Richard Lauder expands on questions about the future of the
On Real Journey's lack of ski industry
''We understand the hospitality and hosting association with
tourism, so we don't actually see running a skifield as
unusual in respect of the sort of business we currently do
run. It is hospitality, it is feeding people, and giving them
experiences. It is similar to what we might do on a boat in
Milford Sound or at the glow worm caves or on the
Earnslaw. it isn't an unusual fit for us.''
On dealing with the seasonal aspects of tourism:
''We had 60 days of road closures in Milford Sound last
summer and winter, so that was 60 days we couldn't operate.
So, those things affect us all the time. But Cardrona is
counter to Real Journeys' normal seasonal swings. February is
traditionally the biggest month of the year for Real Journeys
and May, June, July and August are the quiet months. So,
actually having a business that kicks in in June and extends
through to mid-October is actually quite good for our
balance; our seasonality.
On resource sharing
''We are still running the businesses separately. But there
will be quite a few Real Journeys staff who are seasonal who
will work winters at Cardrona and a lot of Cardrona staff who
were seasonal who will work the summers at Real Journeys.
It's a big advantage. An example might be our coach drivers.
We have a lot of trips going in and out of Milford and
Doubtful Sound over the summer but it's quite a lot quieter
over those winter months. So we can redeploy drivers and
coaches to bring people up on to the skifield. So there's
quite a lot of potential crossover of staff between the two
organisations which will give each of the teams a lot more
certainty around employment and the ability to stay around.''
On senior management
''I'm acting chief executive. The previous chief executive
(Duncan Vealls) was with Vealls in Melbourne, so apart from
that we still have the same senior management team. They know
how to run this thing. A couple have been here coming into
their 21st season so they know what they are doing.
On future directions
''We've bought Cardrona because it's an exceptional asset. It
has a great reputation and a great brand. So we are not
changing any of that. What we are looking at is just seeing
where we might be able to enhance Cardrona and Real Journeys
by some sharing. For example, using Real Journeys' offshore
sales and marketing capability to promote Cardrona a little
bit more in the foreign markets. There can be some
cross-selling [between the operations].
The prospect of change for skiers
Cardrona Alpine Resort instructors Dee Hameed (left, in
red) and Charlie Gardner (right) guide their young charges
in the skifield's Skiwees programme in July 2012. Photo by
''I don't think they will see any extraordinary change.
We got a lot of feedback from our client base here at Cardrona
that they were nervous about change. So we are not planning to
suddenly change it and we are very sensitive about not changing
the culture of Cardrona as well.
Potential for growth at Cardrona
''We've only owned the skifield for four months so to
suddenly be saying we are going to be doing this and that and
the other thing is pretty premature. We still think there's
capacity on the field as it stands today ... just altering
some trails to hopefully encourage skiers to go in different
places. That immediately increases the capacity if you are
steering people to underutilised assets. There's no
expectation that we are going to open another valley and put
another chair in and build another base facility.''
On the competition
''There is no doubt Coronet Peak is the poster child of the
ski industry because of its proximity to Queenstown and the
fact that you can just stand at the bottom of the hill and
see the snow on it. That has a major influence on whether
people go skiing or not and, of course, once they're here
then we fight over which field they go on. If Coronet is not
looking good then that does affect all of us, even though we
might have great snow.''
On Real Journeys' growth
''We purchased the Walter Peak site just after buying
Cardrona so I guess that signals we are in the market to grow
the business. We are optimistic about tourism; we are
certainly optimistic about this part of the world. We will
continue to invest here as opportunities come up.''
''We have had quite strong links into China ... and good
brand awareness in China. So, we certainly see opportunities
to leverage off that once the Chinese want to experience
snow-based activities. I think we will test that market this
year. The Chinese are now more than 20% of our business in
Real Journeys. They are our single biggest market and they
have been growing at 20% to 30% a year. So you can't ignore
the fact that Chinese tourism is really important to our
On a China-Cardrona ski industry partnership
''There is a view that we might be able to establish a
relationship with one of the Chinese skifields and maybe do
some training of instructors. We will look to see whether
there is some sort of partnership we can form with one of the
Chinese skifields. That may bring us a pool of staff and also
create a reputation in China as an off-season destination. My
understanding is that there are about 200 skifields in China
now, up from about 15 to 20 years ago. It's massively
- Mr Lauder's comments have had some minor editing.
Leading South Island, family-owned,
tourism business in its 60th year.
Operates the TSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu, the Walter Peak
High Country Farm, Milford and Doubtful Sounds cruises, the
Te Anau Glowworm Caves, day walks on the Milford Track and
Stewart Island ferry and tour services. Also has a stake in
Black Cat Cruises, Queenstown Rafting and Milford Sound
MBA (Otago), bachelor of chemical and process engineering and
a graduate diploma in arts majoring in ethics
Previously executive chairman of Excell Corporation and first
chief executive of Christchurch City Council-owned City Care
Joined Real Journeys April 2012.
Married with two children.