Sarah Meadows and Matt Young are well-known within the Bay of Plenty community for their unique backpacker experiences in the Bay.
But in the last few months, the pair have embarked on a new journey, completely renovating, rebranding and repositioning their downtown Tauranga premise Harbourside City Backpackers into the gorgeous Wanderlust – a unique, eco-conscious accommodation offering in the heart of the city… perfect for work or play!
We asked Sarah a quick Q&A to find out more about the big change, the impacts of COVID-19 on their industry and what makes Wanderlust special.
Tell us a bit about your background – who you are you and what were you doing before you owned the backpackers (both Tauranga and the Mount)
Our journey began sometime in 2000 when Matt and I were bright-eyed young backpackers travelling the world. We met on a van tour in Portugal and reconnected back in Tauranga in 2005.
I was nursing and travelling around the world; Matt was playing rugby and travelling, and he was a rural bank manager on his return to NZ
How did the opportunity to own both backpackers in such prime locations come about? How long have you owned them for?
In 2004, I came home from my OE and with the help of my father we purchased Harbourside City Backpackers in the old St Amand building on The Strand. Matt and I bought Pacific Coast Lodge in 2012 as we knew Harbourside City Backpackers might not survive due to the building needing to be earthquake strengthened in 2019, so we had to secure our future.
We managed to get ourselves into a position after years of negotiation and due diligence to purchase St Amand building in 2019 and this enabled us to save our business also. In 2020 we closed Harbourside City Backpackers, and earthquake strengthened and renovated the building, before we we opened again in October 2020.
Why did you decide to rebrand to Wanderlust?
We wanted the name to stand out. Wanderlust means the desire to travel and explore the world… pretty fitting we thought!
What are some key points of difference about this accommodation? What makes you unique?
We are right on the waterfront with incredible views of the harbour and positioned in downtown Tauranga among all the action.
We have more than 16 years in the tourism industry, and this is our sister hostel to our award winning backpackers over in the Mount. We have completely restored this 1918 heritage building making it a real asset to Tauranga. We have many rooms from comfortable double ensuites to dorm beds, meaning we can cater for large groups and have a separate area for them with their own bathroom, kitchen, lounge overlooking the harbour.
We are an affordable option for corporates mid-week that want more that a hotel room – it’s a great way to meet like-minded people.
Why the shift to focus more on eco-tourism?
We have won many business awards, are part of Qualmark, and have been head of the game recognising the importance that sustainability has on tourism businesses. Part of being a responsible tourism provider is about educating your guests, as well as protecting and preserving the land and minimising your footprint.
What changes have you recently made at your Mount location? And how does it differentiate from your Tauranga location?
We continue to operate the same as always at Pacific Coast Lodge – we have the right formula and we are exceptionally busy with young internationals who are still in the country and wanting to work in the Bay of Plenty for the upcoming season.
We fill a massive casual work labour force here to the packhouses, contractors, bars and cafes and agencies and everything in between! Locals know to call us if they are looking for casual employees. This is a younger age group to Wanderlust NZ. It is all about the culture there. We host events to bring our guests together such as Amazing Race, speed dating and beach games… they end up making friends for life and stay with us for weeks on end!
Wanderlust has a lot more one night stays and New Zealanders, rather than weekly boarders working.
What are some of the challenges COVID has thrown up for accommodation providers and how are you overcoming them?
We have lost 75% of our international market. Most of our domestic groups all cancelled this year. It has been a real struggle and we have to really market ourselves to target the working holiday visas (WHV) that are left in the country.
Wanderlust is moving towards the New Zealand market. We have now had to change our cancellation and deposit policies to be more flexible due to COVID19 for both hostels. We have so many jobs being called in and not enough backpackers to fill the roles – this is only going to get worse as more visas expire and WHVs have to return home.
I have been having a voice with BYATA and TIA telling them the importance of getting WHVs extended and opening up with Australia so their WHVs come to NZ.
Are you still getting international travellers in your accommodation – perhaps those that have ended up stuck in New Zealand?
Luckily Pacific Coast Lodge has an awesome reputation and the youth market is still wanting to come here for summer. We also find them jobs, so the beach and work is a major draw card over other regions.
Anything else you’d like to add about yourself or your business?
We are very passionate about the adventure youth market and the value this has on the tourism economy.
Our guests at Pacific Coast Lodge, if paying weekly, stay up to 25 days on average. They are spending all their hard earned money back into the Bay’s economy and are great ambassadors for the Bay and as they travel around NZ and return home.
We would love Wanderlust NZ to be recognised as an iconic affordable place to stay with the best views in town!