Cordis Auckland boss Franz Mascarenhas says the opening of the gleaming new tower that makes the hotel New Zealand's biggest will be well timed.
Although the country is in the midst of the pandemic, Auckland's much-anticipated move to the traffic light system from the end of the month means the hotel will be able to open up to vaccinated guests in the lead-up to Christmas.
The move away from lockdowns as the primary means of tackling Covid means visitors from within the city and the rest of the country can return and there's a glimmer of hope for the resumption of tourism from other countries next year.
Mascarenhas says the timing is good for the opening of the $170 million Pinnacle Tower.
"I think people are fed up of being locked down, whether it's individuals who want to get out and socialise or the business community, who want to get out and do face to face meetings again."
Demand bounced back quickly when past lockdowns ended and he's predicting the same will happen again, first from the Auckland "staycation" market.
And now he has 244 new premium rooms in the 17-storey tower to offer them.
"We expect that the strong level of suppressed demand over the last two years will see Auckland's arrival numbers surpass past peaks, and our enhanced size as the largest hotel in the country and our supporting facilities will ensure we are perfectly positioned to capitalise on this."
Cordis Auckland will have a total of 640 rooms on its site at the top of Auckland's CBD and rooms in the new tower will be charged at a premium, although Mascarenhas says there'll be deals to stimulate the market.
"Short term, everyone understands that the market is currently constrained and for this period we have no unrealistic expectations. The Pinnacle Tower is however a long term investment, one that will greatly enhance its asset value and position itself to capitalise on the inevitable boom the city will see when international borders open, hopefully in the near future," he says.
Hotels have been especially hard-hit by closed international and domestic borders, and while Mascarenhas says he would be much happier if there was a clearer pathway to opening up, he sees it happening in stages.
Visitors would return in three phases, with long-haul markets from North America, Europe and Asia coming back at the end of next year.
"A focus on domestic for the immediate future, Australia in early 2022 and then a gradual opening of other borders, with quarter four seeing major international source markets open up."
The Cordis is owned by the Langham Hospitality Group, which has 22 big hotels worldwide. That company is in turn owned by listed Hong Kong property and hotel conglomerate the Great Eagle Group.
This gave it a strong international brand presence and reputation in key global markets, allowing it to create awareness of the new tower and hotel. Over the past three years, the hotel has undergone about $30m worth of revamping and building new restaurants and bars.
Mascarenhas has led the five-star hotel for nine years, during which he's seen the rapid growth and high occupancy of the tourism boom, and then from March last year the ravages of the pandemic. He's optimistic about the city and his expanded hotel's place in it.
"With Auckland's growing population and status as a bustling hub of activity, we know our location is also premium."
The new Karangahape Rd rail station will be nearby and further afield, the Sky City Convention Centre development and the proposed cruise berth upgrade will bring in more tourists and events to the city, which he believes will shake its unfortunate association with the spread of Covid in New Zealand.
Throughout the pandemic, the government controversially persisted with using central Auckland hotels as MIQ facilities. But at an early stage, Cordis decided not to be part of the MIQ scheme.
"I think people will recognise that we made a decision to give that extra layer of protection to the staff and to our guests," says Mascarenhas. "That has always been paramount and I think from a longer term perspective we have really positioned ourselves well."
Rooms with a view
On the slope leading up to the Karangahape Rd ridge, the Cordis has always had a natural advantage for views but the existing hotel was capped at 10 storeys.
In 2018, with tourism booming, it made the call to build a separate tower on its large site. Mascarenhas put up a drone to get a look at the view and he liked what he saw.
From its upper floors, the tower offers 360 degree views of Auckland landmarks, including the Harbour Bridge, One Tree Hill, Rangitoto, Mt Eden and the Sky Tower. He says the new tower's positioning means it is seamlessly linked to the current hotel, making servicing easier.
While building stopped during alert level four lockdowns, it continued at other times, which were quieter, making the job easier.
Langham hotels around the world put a heavy emphasis on art and the new Auckland tower has a collection of 46 works, 34 of them on public display.
Art advisers Coupland Cormack curated the collection, created by nine of Aotearoa's most prominent contemporary artists.
Mascarenhas says new meeting spaces will cater for the corporate market, which was showing signs of a recovery before lockdowns in this country, and is now booming in some other, open parts of the world.
The jewel in the tower's crown is the Chairman Suite, 252.6sqm of luxury on the top floor. Mascarenhas favours understatement, saying it is "one of the city's largest" suites but it's bigger than the biggest room listed at the Park Hyatt Auckland. The Chairman Suite is also 70sqm bigger than the median floor area of standalone houses consented in 2019.
Besides an enormous bedroom, it has a dining area and spacious marble bathroom with an oversized circular soaking tub bathed in natural daylight, with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to city views. It is finished with a selection of local art pieces, custom made furnishings, a fireplace and a large private balcony with a fire pit.
It could have hosted an Apec leader - perhaps Joe Biden or Vladimir Putin - had the event been held in person in this country. The suite has its own VIP ground floor entrance and lift for privacy and security.
"Guests who use this will bypass having to go into the main hotel reception - their entourages will drive up to the entrance and then be whisked straight up to this suite. This aspect is the key this profile of people looks for."
The Cordis has hosted a future king of England (Prince Charles), music royalty including the Rolling Stones, Mariah Carey and Taylor Swift, and heads of state, and Mascarenhas wants to keep his hotel at the top of the list for VIPs.
They expect big suites and security, and big groups are expected to book out entire floors.
A plush new club lounge is opening on the 14th floor.
"Besides the amazing views, it also provide on a complimentary basis, a wholesome breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktail and canape service. So linking price and value remains our guiding principle in marketing the Pinnacle Tower," he says.
The hotel is requiring all guests using its facilities - staying, dining or getting a spa treatment, for example - to be fully vaccinated. This change will take effect when Auckland moves into the traffic light system. This vaccine mandate also includes all of the approximately 400 people who work at the hotel.
Mascarenhas says this is the best option to keep everyone safe and stress-free, from the moment they walk in the doors until they leave.
"We are living in unprecedented times, and with this comes difficult decisions we have to make as a business. We've decided to take a stance on mandating vaccines across our entire team and all visitors, to ensure our guests and colleagues alike feel reassured they are in a safe environment."