The AHA NSW Awards for Excellence took place Tuesday night 21 November at The Star in Sydney, with over 600 nominations for 45 categories, and a sell-out crowd of 1300 industry attendees.
The theme of the night was ‘Recognising Brilliance’, with roughly 40 different venues and their staff recognised for their superiors offerings. Hotels were recognised from all over Sydney and from regional areas as removed as Silverton (Best Bush Pub – Silverton Hotel) and Woolgoolga (Best Cheap Eat Meal Under $15 – Seaview Tavern).
Scott Leach opened up the proceedings stating that it was a record-breaking event, with record of over 600 hotels participating in the nomination process, a record number of finalists, and a record number of AHA NSW membership, now sitting at 2400 pubs.
“I can proudly say our hotels are amongst the most sophisticated in Australia. This year our hotels continue to reinvest, create employment and deliver facilities for our local communities at an unprecedented rate.”
Leach also made a point of acknowledging and celebrating the women of the industry, stating that New South Wales has had a long history of female leadership in the industry, starting with the first female licensee in 1797.
“We do not often acknowledge the role of women in our industry, but tonight I would like to recognise the support, the sacrifice, the expertise and vision of the women who own and operate hotels in New South Wales.”
New venue success
The big winners of the night were two new venues, Headlands Austinmer and The Prince Hotel in Kirrawee. The two hotels took out Hotel of the Year Country and City, respectively. Both are less than a year old.
Headlands Austinmer, just south of Wollongong, is a pub and resort that replaced Headlands Hotel at the beginning of the year. Besides taking out the main award, it also won Best Outdoor Experience Country and Best Pub Accommodation Deluxe.
“The team and I are extremely proud of the hotel and our achievements over the last year that we have been open, and are looking forward to the coming summer,” stated general manger Andrew Biggs.
The Prince Hotel in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire, is a greenfields pub built by the Feros Group that opened in February this year. The pub also picked up awards for Best New/Redeveloped Hotel City and Best Family Friendly venue. Chris Feros was on hand to receive the Hotel of the Year City award, acknowledging that The Prince was a four-year project for the group, and stating his enthusiasm for pubs: “We all love what we do in this awesome industry.”
Inducted into the AHA NSW Hall of Fame this year, were brothers Bill and Mario Gravanis (pictured). The first-generation publicans have accomplished a lot in the last 30 years in the industry, founding Oscars Hotels. Starting with one Sydney pub, Oscars Hotels now owns and operates 18 pubs and accommodation hotels, including Novotel Brighton Beach.
Humbled by the award, Bill Gravanis thanked his family and staff, and preferred to applaud the industry as a whole.
“I love this industry, we both do. We’re in the best industry in the world, you couldn’t get any better, and yet we keep on improving it. If you look at where it’s heading, that bar keeps rising.”
Alistair Flower was another individual winner, taking out Individual Hotel Operator. His pub Settlers Inn in Port Macquarie also won Heart of the Community. Flower was also recently named Publican of the Year at the 2017 Australian Liquor Industry Awards (ALIAs).
“I’m very humbled considering the quality of hotels and publicans in our industry in new South Wales. It’s been fantastic to receive such recognition.”
The $20,000 AHA NSW Hospitality Scholarship was also awarded to Samantha Anderson of Wellington, near Dubbo. The three other finalists were given $10,000 each to put towards a degree at Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School (BHIHMS).
Solotel was named Hotel Group Operator for 2017, and took out the most awards of the night, picking up another three. The group also won Best Casual Dining Venue City Eastern for The Sheaf and Best Nightclub/Nightlife Venue for Albion Hotel. Staff member Henry Hammersla of the Clock Hotel was named Bartender of the Year.
The night indeed recognised the brilliance of the industry, with Leach stating that New South Wales continued to lead by example.
“I can proudly say our hotels are amongst the most sophisticated in Australia.”