By Ellen Hill
They’re young, confident and super ambitious, yet the band of young guns spearheading the latest tourism revolution in the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon region are also well seasoned and industry mature.
Building on the success of industry leaders before them, many of whom continue to introduce new ideas and products and mentor the up-and-coming achievers, the 35 years and younger set is giving a new generation of tourists more reasons to visit the region.
From introducing timid tourists to the eons-old natural environment through state-of-the-art green technology and adventure sports activities to managing resorts, owning iconic grand hotels and building record-breaking trains, these operators don’t just know how to give customers a good time, they have serious business nous.
Indeed, the official regional tourism organisation is headed by Randall Walker, himself just 41 but with more than two decades of industry experience.
“The tourism industry in this region was built on the bedrock of initiative, determination and sheer hard work of truly great visionaries, people who saw a need or had a dream and made it happen.
“The young people leading the industry in this region today are no different – they will do whatever it takes to make their businesses and this region the number one tourism destination in Australia.
“They are the ones who never give up; they allow themselves to dream; they are not afraid to try new things; they do things that no one else has done anywhere else before them.
“We have the steepest passenger train in the world at Scenic World because Harry Hammon dared to dream, his son Philip maintained it and his grandchildren Anthea and David confidently drove it into the 21st century with a massive financial commitment to the community and the regional industry.’’
Similarly, the iconic Carrington Hotel at Katoomba has been gradually restored to its former glory under the ownership of Michael Brischetto and others; the Waldorf Leura Gardens Resort revamped under the guidance of general managers Daniel Harrison and Joanne McClandish, with its famous gardens once again a spectacular centrepiece; and the region has become a world-renowned hub for outdoor nature-based activities thanks to the vigorous forces of Dylan Jones and Chris Hall.
Here are a few members of the new guard:
* Michael Brischetto, 35, co-owner and licensee of The Carrington Hotel, Katoomba (BMLOT vice chairman):
After a successful career in real estate and property development, Brischetto was in a position to be able to buy into the historic Carrington Hotel.
Initially, his involvement was only going to be one of an investor. “I had never worked in the hospitality or tourism industry and knew very little about the industry.’’
However, “that quickly changed as I fell in love with the building and the region’’.
Brischetto and business partner Mark Jarvis have worked during the past nine years restoring the beautiful icon and opening new business units such as the Carrington Cellars and Deli and soon to open Katoomba Brewing Company.
“The secret to our success has been embracing the local community.’’
* Joanne McClandish, 27, and Daniel Harrison, 29, general managers (management couple) of Waldorf Leura Gardens Resort:
McClandish began her hospitality career as a receptionist at Euro Hostel (Glasgow’s largest youth hostel with 365+ beds) in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2003 while studying International Business and Modern Languages at Strathclyde University. Throughout her studies from 2003 to 2008 she worked at the Euro Hostel’s Glasgow and Edinburgh properties, working her way up to duty manager, then front office and reservations manager.
Meanwhile, Harrison began his hospitality career working in pubs and restaurants in Glasgow and Edinburgh before also working for Euro Hostel, where the couple met. He started very much as a “general runner’’ and has a great broad education working in F&B, housekeeping, front desk and reservations before ending up as a duty manager for Euro Hostel. He also worked as a bar manager at the youth hostel bar, Osmosis, as well as a pub in Perth (Scotland).
On moving to Australia in 2008, McClandish and Harrison approached their first job as a management couple, working as an assistant management couple for Aspen Parks and Resorts at their Geelong holiday park. They moved to New Zealand in 2009 and began working for the Waldorf Apartment group.
McClandish was part of the team responsible for opening and setting up the Waldorf group and Auckland’s newest 4.5 star apartment hotel the Waldorf Celestion in May 2010. As assistant manager, she set up the hotel and trained the front office and reservations team before assuming the role of relief general manager.
During that time, Harrison worked as a relief hotel manager across the Waldorf Group’s seven hotels in the Auckland area. The experience ignited his passion for the operations side of the hotel business.
The couple were offered the management couple position at Waldorf Leura Gardens Resort after the directorship bought the property in February 2011. Since then, they have overseen the renovation and rebuilding of the property (which continues). Their work building the business has seen rapid growth in reservations and repeat guests.
“Daniel and I strongly believe in leading by example,’’ McClandish said.
“If you work for us there is no such thing as that `not being in my job description’. If something needs doing we are very hands on and are the first to clean a room, make a bed and polish glasses if the job needs doing.
“We have been very fortunate to have been nurtured and supported by the Waldorf Apartment Group over our four years with them with special thanks to our NSW area general manager Sabine Massberg and owner and managing director Avi Rubinstein.’’
* Anthea Hammon, 32, Scenic World joint managing director:
Hammon grew up working at Scenic World in various casual roles. On leaving school, she moved to Sydney and completed a Mechanical Engineering Degree at the University of NSW with 1st Class Honors in 2003.
On her return to Scenic World, Hammon oversaw the maintenance department and capital projects.
She and brother David joined the board of directors for the business in 2008 to help drive the company’s strategies. When their father Philip retired in August 2011, the pair took over as joint managing directors.
“For the past four years we have been focused on providing our guests with the best experience possible through our staff and also through the development of our new $30 million railway, which I oversaw from concept to completion.’’
Anthea also sits on the Australian Amusement Leisure and Recreation Association board and is Australian Standards Committee (ME51) chairwoman that covers amusement rides and devices.
“My tip for other people is: `Do something you are passionate about, and always provide the best customer experience possible then improve on it’,’’ she said.
* David Hammon, 35, joint managing director of Scenic World:
Before returning to the family business as chief financial officer in 2006, Hammon earned a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Economics from the Australian National University as well as a Graduate Certificate in Tourism Management from the University of Technology Sydney.
He then worked as an accountant for three years, then as a royalties clerk for three more.
“Being part of the third generation to run our business, we make decisions considering the generation(s) that comes after us,’’ Hammon said.
“We believe that in the social media age, now more than ever before, customer experience has to come first and we strive to provide the best experience possible for everyone that visits Scenic World.’’
Among his mentors, Hammon said membership of Family Business Australia had been beneficial.
* Dylan Jones, 31, owner/director of Blue Mountains Adventure Company and Blue Mountains Lithgow & Oberon Tourism board member:
Jones dropped out of university four times (four different degrees), worked several part-time jobs before he “finally realised that I should get paid to do what I love’’.
Jones enrolled in a Certificate of Outdoor Recreation at TAFE and never looked back.
“After working very broadly within the Outdoor Recreation sector for several years, I was fortunate enough to be able to invest in Blue Mountains Adventure Company and focus my interests in one place. The learning curve in this role has been immense, but I’ve loved it.’’
Jones cites interpersonal skills as top of his list of characteristics he valued most in an employee.
“The ability to navigate, tie knots, strap twisted ankles or make a cup of tea can be taught, but a personality is moulded over a lifetime.
“Our guests are sharing their holidays with us, spending their hard earned money and entrusting us to get them safely through the day. The thing that makes the difference is that we actually care that they have a great day.’’
* Chris Hall, 30, owner/managing director of Segway Tours Blue Mountains:
Former supply chain project manager Hall has worked globally in a client-based environment, training himself up to expect excellence in every situation.
He made the leap to tourism two years ago with the Segway Blue Mountains venture and has since become deeply involved in the tourism scene with ventures such as creating the Blue Mountains Adventure brand alongside fellow achiever Dylan Jones.
Hall also runs his own charity dedicated to inspiring homeless youth across Australia – Be What You Want, and recently launched Everest Team Events with a mission statement of becoming the biggest team event company in the Blue Mountains.
It will service the corporate conferencing market, focusing on being locally staffed and based. New products such as outdoor laser tag guns are live and Hall intends to bring further innovation to the area under the brand.
In May 2013, Hall will launch his latest business, Blue Mountains Pass, an innovative product aimed at the couples and family market providing VIP express entry to Scenic World and Jenolan Caves alongside regional discounts under the Friends of the Pass scheme.
“My business philosophy is: show people your passion by telling people why you do business, innovate constantly and build on success,’’ he said. “Never be afraid to learn from every experience.’’