We chat with voco Kirkton Hunter Valley General Manager Penny Crossley
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Arriving at the gates to voco Kirkton Hunter Valley, the property's grand entrance instantly sets the scene. The sweeping driveway leads you to the spectacular foyer where you’re welcomed into the voco experience of plush interiors, exquisite dining, and next-level service.
Located along Oakey Creek Road in Pokolbin the strikingly beautiful property has become as much a part of the Hunter Valley as the vineyards that it’s surrounded by, and almost 50 years on the property continues to set the benchmark for a boutique accommodation experience.
In 2016 voco Kirkton Park underwent a stunning refurbishment which became a three year journey, and together with a new name that took place in April this
year, the hotel set off on a different direction driven by General Manager Penny Crossley. Penny’s mission, to go off the grid.
Passionate about eco-tourism and sustainability within business Penny has been instrumental in voco’s focus on altering firmly entrenched business practices with sustainable initiatives across all touchpoints of the hotel, all the while not compromising the property's boutique status.
Interested to learn just how Penny's gone about this almighty eco-challenge, we caught up for a chat.
Lovely to meet you Penny, how is Hunter Valley life treating you one year on?
I am loving it, when the General Manager position opened up here I came and visited the property and it stole my heart straight away, I was banging down
my boss's door to get me here as soon as possible.
Where were you based previously to the voco Kirkton Hunter Valley?
Prior to this role I was the Director of Food and Beverage at Crown Plaza in Coogee Beach, before Coogee Beach I was the General Manager of QT Bondi and Operations Manager at QT Sydney. That theatrical, boutique luxury space is my jam, I love it!
What is it about the boutique hotel scene that you love so much?
It’s that emotional connection you have with the guests, the service style is completely different, it’s so personalised. When you work at boutique hotels the team get to be themselves, and the guests love that. People are looking for a unique experience, they don’t want the big box cookie cutters anymore, they want to find something that’s special to them and that they can emotionally connect with.
voco Kirkton Hunter Valley is quite a change from the Sydney hotel scene, what brought you here?
For the last 10 years, a secret passion of mine has been the environment and sustainability within business. In 2009 I was trained by Al Gore as a part of the Climate Reality Project and since then it’s something I’ve been personally working on within my circle of influence to change what I can.
At QT we brought in a sustainable approach to the food & beverage, we planted a herb garden and brought bees onto the property along with solar panels, we did what we could with the space we had available.
What's exciting about being at voco Kirkton Hunter Valley is the prospect of doing things on a large scale. I was excited when we first installed 6 solar
panels on the property, now we have 370 which generates 100 kilowatts and allows us to supply enough power, day and night to run voco, which is incredible.
So that’s what connected me to the hotel.
When you say you were trained by Al Gore, can you tell us a little more about that?
In 2009 Al Gore developed the Climate Reality Project which is a movement, and the idea behind this was to form a global community who Al can train in the presentations that he creates and researches, once we’ve been trained we then receive legal permission to go out and present them to others.
Some people have taken their role within the Climate Reality Project to the next level, for me up until this point, I haven’t been as active or vocal as I would have liked to have been, I’ve implemented initiates as I could. However, now that I am at voco I have the space to be able to do the things that back up what I am saying.
How did you come to be involved in a project such as this?
I was working with Flight Centre at the time and they were approached to be involved with the Climate Reality Project, they then went out to the wider community asking who would like to get involved, and they knew that it was a passion of mine.
I used to be the one who would get cranky about all the paper getting wasted and not recycled and that’s how it started. I then had to apply for the position and they chose me to represent Flight Centre at the conference that Al Gore hosted in Melbourne.
What have you found most beneficial about being a part of the Project?
It has been great for the connections and learning about people who are doing amazing things right across the world. If I have questions there is always someone within that network who I can reach out to who is an expert in that space. So it’s more the network of people who I’ve really connected with.
In twelve months you’ve certainly initiated a lot of change within the hotel, both with events and sustainability, what do you see the next 12 months bringing?
There’s lots of plans, particularly with our events. The monthly Long Table Lunches have been really well received and we plan on playing around with that concept to keep it fresh and interesting.
We also have big plans to expand the kitchen garden and continue to grow that offering. Our Executive Chef Prabhat Kumar Prawin has helped to drive this which was one of the reasons I initially reached out to him as I knew he had a passion for the paddock to plate concept.
I also have big goals around the sustainability side of things, I would love, and this is big picture, I would love for the property to become eco-tourism certified and have the hotel completely off the grid, that’s my ultimate goal, and that’s what we’re working towards.