Pavilions Hotel Christchurch: A New Zealand Family Story

Pavilions has been owned and operated by Graeme and Maureen Horncastle for nearly 27 years, with daughter and General Manager Debbie Rollinson helping to retain the family feel that has their guests returning, and always with a story to tell from their previous stay. Debbie is as the saying goes a “chip off the old block” and has been central in raising the standard of Pavilions to be one of the best family operated hotels in Christchurch, crediting the family culture and values firmly embedded throughout the Pavilions at the heart of its success.

The Horncastle’s as a family, have taken the hotel from a 1980’s style motel to the 90 room plus four-star hotel it is today. Jimmy’s Restaurant and Bar, named after Graeme’s father, is a treasure trove of the family’s history with its Kiwiana Courtyard display that has been amassed over three generations bringing to life the story of the Horncastle family as described in the two books Graeme has written. There is a wealth of history that hugs the walls with guests leaving with a story to take home, and is one element helping to deliver an exceptional visitor experience that is at the heart of everything they do.

All of the Horncastle children, and even a couple of their grandchildren, have lived and worked at the hotel at some stage during their lives so when guests stay at the Pavilions they soon realise they aren’t staying at a chain but a home away from home where every guest is treated as part of the family. “We encourage our team to make every interaction a chance to connect. It comes down to our training where we want staff to make the right observations, ask the right questions and always aspire to give our guests the best experience possible. We believe that every guest has the potential to have a stand out experience, and we love that our team have made it part of their role to act as guardians of the brand, as well as enriching the environment that the business operates in” says General Manager Debbie Rollinson.

Tourism Business Adviser for Qualmark Kevin Gough observes it as a natural strength where guests and staff value the sense of community, with impressive retention rates to back it up: “It’s a culture where staff feel empowered, embrace their responsibilities as hosts and are actively engaged in enriching the visitor experience. Their longest serving staff member celebrated their 20th year with Pavilions, with most of the Front of House team having been with the hotel for seven years, which is just superb for the industry.  

It’s Debbie’s proactive leadership and management that ensures a culture of high performance is evident throughout the entire business. There is a real focus to continuously improve, and I feel that this ensures the product they deliver is a genuine, personal, take home experience” says Kevin.

Pavilions has been a Qualmark partner for nearly 20 years with the business achieving the Gold Sustainable Tourism Business Award in 2017, with the mark of quality a benchmark for continuous improvement central to the delivery of exceptional customer experiences.

Whether it’s from a display they have seen in the Kiwiana courtyard, an extract they have read from one of Graeme Horncastle’s books you can find a copy of in every room, or feeling as though they are a local at Jimmy’s, Debbie likes to think their guests return because of the way they are welcomed into our hotel as more than ‘just a visitor’. “It’s a big reason why our staff choose to stay with us for years because they are respected and rewarded for their commitment to customer service” she says.

“With the increasing number of tour groups staying with us at the Pavilions Hotel we have ensured our international guests don’t miss out on our own cultural and family values. We employ staff that speak and understand a variety of languages, and in our rooms the compendiums have been made available in multiple languages. We have also translated a brochure for the main displays in the Courtyard, so our international guests can experience these as a local would and share these stories with their friends and family when they get home” says Debbie.

 “It’s the relaxed, friendly and welcoming attitude from all our staff that contributes to our uniqueness and sets us apart from other 4-star hotels in the region. As an independent hotel, it is extremely beneficial having the strong brand of a Qualmark rating and a Gold endorsement behind us. And it’s encouraging to have the support of a representative who is not just looking at your paperwork but encouraging good business practice for the sustainability of the business in terms of how we operate as well as how we are contributing to better the environment we operate in. It allows us to remain competitive and strive to extend our culture of manaakitanga throughout the community. In particular being able to support wider sustainability initiatives on the West Coast of the South Island, where Graeme and Maureen Horncastle are originally from, makes us feel like we have come full circle in being able to give back to where it all started for us” says Debbie.

“Businesses that embrace manaakitanga as a mind-set, are empowering their staff and demonstrating that they have taken on the practice as a business fundamental, are representing best practice in their segment” says Kevin Gough. “It’s humbling to see operators who have taken the concept of social licence and applied an inside out approach to implementing initiatives that add value within their community” he adds.