The future of the Grand Chateau Tongariro is in limbo with the hotel not taking any new bookings for 2023 and 2024.
The hotel itself remains open, but virtually empty, as mystery surrounds next week’s release of ‘site assessment’ reports, some of which RNZ understands relate to earthquake strengthening and the building’s land lease.
So what’s going on and why are locals being kept in the dark?
The chateau’s 30-year lease expired in April 2020, and the building owner, Kah New Zealand – a subsidiary of the Singapore-based Kah Motor – has been in negotiations with the Crown to determine its future.
The Department of Conservation’s district operations manager George Taylor has been party to the talks, and will be there when stakeholders meet again next week.
“DOC has offered a new long-term lease to Kah and negotiations around it are ongoing. Consultation with Tūwharetoa, specifically Ngāti Hikairo, is a requirement while Uenuku and Ngāti Haua will also be informed of the process.”
First Up made numerous approaches to the hotel owners to try and get a clearer idea of the what is going on.
We wanted to know why staff were saying the hotel was booked up until the end of 2023, why the hotel’s website was not accepting new bookings, the fate of future bookings along with what would happen to hotel staff.
A spokesperson for the building operators, another Kah subsidiary called Bayview International Hotels and Resorts, said in a statement that as part of its lease renewal, the hotel had proactively conducted site assessments and was awaiting final reports.
The company would be in touch early next week, it said.
First Up understands the hotel needs further earthquake strengthening, which will cost more than what the company had initially budgeted for.
We thought we’d grab a coffee at the hotel’s cafe to see what it was like inside. But it was closed.
Likewise, the bar across the road, Tussock, which is also owned by Kah, was closed.
Apart from two white utility vehicles the car park outside was empty.
And except for a couple of bags tucked behind a counter, we didn’t see any sign of guests in the reception area.
But on the footpath outside we managed to catch up with UK tourists Richard and Carol as they waited for their shuttle. They had just spent a delightful few days at the chateau, which they said was very quiet inside.
They had booked their stay way back in 2020, before Covid hit.
“It was, I don’t know, 10 percent full,” Richard said. “We thought it would be a lot fuller ’cause it’s mid-summer isn’t it.”
But other Tripadvisor reviews from recent guests are less than favourable.
“Prison quality food at outrageous prices! By far the worst food on our NZ trip, but they charged $69/head,” one post said.
“We were visiting from UK having booked dinner in the restaurant a couple of months in advance, expecting the wonderful service and food as described on the hotel website … how wrong could we have been, the restaurant was almost empty,” said another.
“What’s good … amazing location and views and access to the national park.
What’s not so good: hotel looks old and in urgent need of renovation and modernisation. Meals are buffet only and they assume everyone wants full breakfast and full dinner – they don’t.”
Local business owners spoken to by First Up were reluctant to go on the record, but it was clear that people were worried about the future of the chateau, which is integral to the tourism-based economy.
The negotiations come shortly after another of the district’s major employers, Ruapehu Alpine Lifts, went into voluntary administration $40 million in debt.
As well as being unable to operate during Covid, an unusually warm winter meant last year’s ski season was a disaster for RAL.
Ruapehu District mayor Weston Kirton is not privy to the chateau negotiations, but like the rest of the locals, he’s concerned.
“My understanding is that they’re going through a phase of development and we’d had some indication that it’s quite significant in terms of earthquake risks and the like. My understanding is that they have budget for that and that they’ll be working towards some resolution,” he said.
“We have no knowledge as to the timing, and there’s no reference to any consents or anything at this stage, so we’re waiting with interest to see. What the group is actually doing, and I guess the community is waiting anxiously to see that there is some work going on there.”
George Taylor from DOC said Kah had been permitted to continue to occupy the land on a monthly basis despite the original lease having expired.
There was no dispute between the Crown and Kah, he said. Depending on changes agreed during negotiations, further consultation may be needed before a new lease is granted.
Stakeholders are expected to meet again on Tuesday.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz