Everybody who has ever met Will Creedon knows he's a big ideas kind of guy. The engaging Irishman was a main driving force behind the tourism industry in the Hunter. As the chairman of Tourism Hunter, he was a leading advocate to bring major events to the region and improved infrastructure.
While he has stepped away from that role, he has not lost his passion for tourism. Rather, he's poured all of that energy into his business, as managing director of Alloggio, a holiday property management company that is going bigger every day.
In February, Alloggio and PRDnationwide Port Stephens announced an alliance aimed at improving returns for property owners and increasing the scale and reach of the region in the holiday accommodation market.
Creedon is quite clear about his company's role in the partnership: Alloggio doesn't sell residential property and does not manage permanent lettings of residential property. What it does do is manage short-term and holiday lettings, on properties that let for anywhere from $12,500 a week to $450 a week.
The new partnership has lifted the profile of Alloggio, which is headquartered in Nelson Bay at Port Stephens.
Alloggio has two streams of business: management of hotel and motel properties, particularly rooms, and management of holiday home properties. Creedon says the company is one of the biggest holiday accommodation businesses in Port Stephens, managing well over a thousand rooms.
In this age of disruption, no business is safe standing still. Uber can deliver restaurant meals to your home. Google can deliver news to your mobile phone. You can dial in a video tour on your phone of home you might want to buy. Electric cars are a growing reality.
The holiday market is no different: holiday seekers can scour accommodation around the world at their fingertips, comparing prices and availability and features with no help.
And that is where Alloggio comes into the game. Creedon been honing his expertise for decades, and know he's taking a giant leap by investing in the business to make sure it's a player in a rapidly changing business landscape.
"To be honest, Alloggio is about people creating experiences, that's what it means," he says.
"What we've done is, over the years, we've watched how people interact with accommodation, how businesses in accommodation interact with people, and we've tried to make it easier. In some cases, we've taken out some steps to allow people to interact quicker, to be more direct."
In real terms, the holiday letting process has changed. Customer expectations have changed big-time. And Creedon has positioned his company to put both the customer and property owner at the front of the queue, the top of the list.
His goal is to make the holiday experience seamless - to get rid of the barriers.
And that means changing traditions.
As he describes it: "The traditions of the past, where you were told you had to collect your key from here, from 2 o'clock to 4.30 and you had to pay extra to get your key after that . . . Then you had to bring your own linen, your own shampoo, your own soap, you had to bring your own bring your own, those days are gone.
"That means you need a supply chain, that is linked together in a way it appears that things just happen.
"For things to just happen means there is incredible thought on all the details behind the details of all those things. It also means there has to be investment, which means there has to be scale, which also means there has to be reach."
Change has not been easy. During the busy summer holiday period Alloggio introduced a high-tech solution to the dilemma of obtaining the key to your accommodation. The company began operation of designated "key hub," at Anna Bay accessible to holidaymakers whenever they arrive.
The streamlined shipping container located adjacent to the Caltex service station at Anna Bay on the Nelson Bay Road to Port Stephens.
When you book with Alloggio, you are asked to add the LockVue app to your mobile phone. You are provided a unique code by message, which gives you access inside the modernised container and to your individual locker where your keys are located.
"Scale has allowed us to have that investment and technology, and people who can run it," Creedon says.
"It's like modern hotels: you get a notice by SMS, use a little app, walk up to key hub, open the door, go to your designated locker, it has a smart lock, it opens, take your key. And we know you've taken it.
"The next evolution, we want to be integrated with Caltex so your hamper will be waiting for you. We're working on that."
He hopes in the future Alloggio can interact with its customers about their experience, and do more business with them, like book restaurants or tours, either through an app or directly with its "concierge" staff.
Creedon knows his market - it's the world, you could say. He readily quotes that 50 per cent of Alloggio's customer base is Anglo-Saxon, which means that 50 per cent is non-Anglo-Saxon. He credits the Port Stephens' tourism industry's long-term effort to serve the Asian market as being vital to the area.
"Both the developed and developing world, people are travelling like crazy," he says. "But it's only beginning. That's the interesting thing. Even that sentence alone creates inspiration. Take this country: in 2005, we had only 280,000 seats from China into Australia. Today, we've got 1.5 million."
And he further predicts Indian tourists to be a prime growth target.
Holiday home owners reserve about 14 per cent of the available nights in a year for themselves, he says, so the challenge is find bookings for as much of the remaining 86 per cent of nights. The length of stays has been constantly declining in recent decades, as holiday makers make more trips but stay for less time.
"If the tide is rolling, you can't change the direction," he says. "You have to set yourself up to ride the tide."
If the tide is rolling, you can't change the direction. You have to set yourself up to ride the tide.Alloggio managing director Will Creedon
Within the realm of his business, Creedon turns the customers who stay at his hotel and motel properties into the best leads for the holiday home properties.
"We have built serious leads, over 100,000 live warm leads that can be booked into a Port Stephens. They used our property in some shape or form in the last 15 months," he says.
The Alloggio property management system means a single property can be listed on bookings.com, airbnb, expedia, stayz, and tripadvisor as well as locally. The next step is creating a link with a travel wholesaler, which will allow those companies to direct book a property for clients.
"That will provide an unbelievable kick, unbelievable," he says.
Oddly enough, Creedon is also passionate about cleaning, which he says, as the middle man in a property letting business, is the "bane of his life".
"It's the biggest challenge of any accommodation provider, regardless of what sector they are in," he says.
He considers it one of his business's major challenges, and he's tackling it head-on by creating a visual and written standard that owners can have.
"It's one of the most frustrating points for an owner," he says. "In their own eyes, it's never clean."
They use independent contractors across the region for cleaning, and Creedon likes it that way, as it's good for the local economy. And he's not laughing when he says, "I do not own a cleaning company. Zero. I am not in it."
In today's global economy, Creedon makes it clear the competition is not the business down the street, the competition for tourists is everywhere around the world, including Australians judging your price and quality against what they get maybe a six-hour flight away, like the South Pacific or Asia, or Hawaii.
But he's confident he can find a good share of business through his investment in technology and commitment to the customer experience.
"I want it to be the first $100million business in accommodation out of Port Stephens-Newcastle," he says.