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River Birches Luxury Lodge in Turangi confident in bounce back

During the summer months the Taupō district has traditionally welcomed a number of high-

spend international travellers. These visitors are attracted to the natural beauty of the

region, seeking out experiences that are luxurious and unique. For the last 15 years, five-star

luxury lodge River Birches has been serving this high-end market with their boutique

accommodation offering.

Located on the banks of the Tongariro River in Turangi and the closest luxury lodge to the

popular Tongariro Crossing, the lodge’s guest rooms and self-contained cottage would

usually be bustling at this time of year. One of River Birches’ popular products is a private

guided walk over the Tongariro Crossing. They also provide guided fly-fishing experiences.

However due to the COVID-19 pandemic border closures, this has been a very different year

for owners Jason and Rebeca Bleibtreu. “The majority of our guests come from the USA and

the UK” says Jason. “As soon as the borders closed we lost 98% of our bookings overnight.

Once the national lockdown lifted and New Zealanders were able to travel we received

more bookings. But it’s not anything like the numbers we would normally be welcoming to

the lodge” he says.

Jason realised he needed to review his business approach, and look for opportunities to

adapt to the new conditions. “Initially we looked at pivoting our business to attract new

customers. However we decided it was better to focus on optimising our current offering. At

this stage we’re confident New Zealand will bounce back strongly once the border opens”

he says.

With the support of Rick Keehan and Mike Bowie from Enterprise Great Lake Taupō, Jason

began applying for training vouchers from the Regional Business Partner Network (RBPN).

“Rick and Mike have helped us access over $9,000 in funding, which has been incredibly

helpful. We used this funding to gain advice from an accountant about applying for and

managing government support payments. We also received training from a digital marketing

company and a social media expert. The RPBN funding came through quickly, so we’ve

already been able to implement several changes” says Jason.

Rather than discounting prices, River Birches includes value-added options in their

marketing, such as room upgrades or a discount on dinner for a two night stay. “Most of our

guests value their time more than a bargain. They don’t want to spend their holiday looking

for the right hiking guide or the best restaurant. We work with local operators to find quality

experiences for our guests that are unique to this area” says Jason.

After over 15 years living in Asia and Central America as journalists, Rebeca and Jason have

really enjoyed moving to Turangi. “It’s so peaceful and quiet here, compared to the pace of

life in Asia and Central America. We love to fish and hike, there are so many options within

an hour’s drive. It’s also really nice to hear the ‘Oh wow!’ when guests arrive – it reminds us

that we live in a beautiful place” says Jason.

Family photo caption L-R: Robert, Rebeca, Jason Bleibtreu



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