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Friday, May 27, 2011

Fiji Orchid Blooms


In a scene reminiscent of that ‘80s beer commercial “They said you’d never make it”, Jenny and Peter Bourke built their dream of luxury Fiji on a run-down remote island in the middle of nowhere that no one wanted to touch.

Fiji born and bred, Jenny, reels in laughter when she recalls her first ITB in Berlin 20 years ago when she masqueraded as a Tahitian to poach business leads from the better prepared French Polynesians.

“It was hilarious,” she says, her normally serene demeanor breaking into a girlish giggle, “I came to the biggest travel show in the world with a box of brochures and no idea. ‘What have you got me into!’ I screamed at my husband. But I learned quick.”

“Dan Costello (Fiji Beachcomber and doyen of Fiji hospitality) famously said to me ‘You know nothing about the industry. How on earth do you think you’re going to make it work?”

The saga of Nukubati Island is well known in hospitality circles, and it’s a story with a happy ending. Tripadvisor now rates the all-inclusive private island resort 100% positive with a 2011 Travellers’ Choice award to boot.

But Jenny and Peter couldn’t rest on their laurels and the Fiji Orchid was born. Not as a swank resort or destination spa, but as a comfortable transit lodge just a few minutes from Nadi airport for guests on their way to or from an outer island experience.

“As so many of these stories start, it began with a coincidence,” Jenny told HM. “I was working with Don Burness, the horticulturalist, on gardens for Nukubati while he was living in the old Raymond Burr house on Saweni Beach.”

“Well, this place was divine. Okay, needed some work, but the potential was immediate and I said almost playfully to Don ‘If you ever want to sell …’ and well, 12 years later I bought it.”

The couple began to transform the two main buildings into dining and reception areas and added six luxury bures. The formal opening was in early 2010 and already the Fiji Orchid has gathered glowing reviews. Among the five acres of lavish gardens (with orchids, of course) there’s a pool, the 20-seat Raymond’s Restaurant, bar, lounge, ornate meeting room and a small spa treatment bure. The property even has its own helipad for guests transferring to private islands.

The back story is of course the Raymond Burr connection. The Canadian-born actor, best known for his TV dramas, Perry Mason and Ironside, was a keen gardener with interests in wine and art. His love of Fiji was part climate and part seclusion. Like so many Hollywood types of the ‘50s and ‘60s, they craved privacy and in Fiji, no one knew him. Here he could relax and be with his long-time partner away from prying eyes and gossiping tongues. His handsome portrait hangs in the restaurant with an obvious look of approval.

Jenny’s very personal style of hospitality extends to the way she conducts business and she has largely eschewed the online travel agents, working mainly through ‘traditional channels’.

“Everyone knows how things work in cycles here in Fiji,” says Jenny, who has formal qualifications in economics, “and even when others are slashing rates we stick to ours. Sure, we’ll value-add, but we won’t discount. I’d rather suffer the short term pain.”

Jenny admits she’ll be using online distribution shortly, but with strict channel management. For now there is no urgency as occupancy is exceeding expectations.

Single or double day rooms are FJD$350 + tax for seven hours or FJD$550 + tax for overnight with a 12 noon checkout. Includes transfers to Nadi airport, Denarau or Lautoka.

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The Expeditionist

The Expeditionist
Venturing to the world's special places