By Vanessa Cavasinni, editor Australian Hotelier

Recently appointed as COO of  Merivale, Peter Gunning spoke to Australian Hotelier about joining the stellar hospitality group, and what’s next for the business.

What are your first impressions of Merivale?

It’s a fantastic business, no doubt. We’ve got a lot of entrepreneurial spirit, the way that Justin has led and grown the business. There’s a culture of putting the guest experience and the guest first. Plus right across the business you can see that there’s been a lot of care taken in the way that we’ve brought people into the business, even though we’re growing very fast – nearly 2500 people now.

Almost everybody I’ve met are bright and shiny sort of people. They are empathic, good personalities, service-orientated, and they just enjoy being around other people and providing a brilliant customer experience. So that’s what got us to where we are but with the ambition that we have we have been acquisitive in building a big business over the last five or ten years. Justin [Hemmes] recognises that the skills and capabilities to then double the business again over say the next five years, requires a different skill set.

We may need to bring in more expertise, maybe people from outside the hospitality industry, to bring us some insights and ways of approaching how we do things. So that’ll encompass things like strategy; a more financially-driven focus on economics; business development; opportunities in how we build our existing venues; disciplines around revenue management and risk; how we build talent and people’s capabilities. It ultimately all leads towards how you build a rhythm of performance in the business so that people know what they’re supposed to be doing and why they’re doing it.

Is that your aim going into his role, to essentially double the business?

I wouldn’t want to put any constraints on it, because I think there’s a strategy here for organic, double-digit growth. The existing venues obviously have good support from the capital markets and from the bank environment that provides debt funding to us, and there’s a runway of really good projects in front of us for the next two years. So there’s that component through existing venues and organic growth and expansion. There is growth through further acquisition and while the market looks fully priced at the moment in terms of what’s out there, we’ll be mindful about identifying opportunities and keeping an open mind, so there’s ability for us to build on that growth. I think just making a more sophisticated approach to how we deal with our revenue. So there’s growth opportunities to come from all of those areas and simply organising ourselves optimally.

Is there any want to grow in markets outside of Sydney?

We see huge growth potential still in Sydney and that the focus is definitely in playing where our core is. Our entire business is platformed in Sydney and that’s been very successful to date. So I think that’s where the majority, if not all, of our focus will go. And it’s still to be determined whether we decide to move more regionally, just outside of Sydney or whether we move interstate. But there are no major plans to do that at the moment. And then of course there’s the international question – do we want to take Merivale to the world? At the moment there’s no feeling of an urgent need to do that, given what we’ve got in front of us already.

To read the full interview with Peter Gunning, click here.

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