Garden City’s Gateway and Favoured Stop-Over for Antarctic Explorers- Iconic Christchurch Hotel’s $25m Makeover Complete

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Christchurch’s accommodation and conferencing ability has received a serious boost with the completion of a $25 million redevelopment of Sudima Christchurch Airport. The two-year project has made the hotel one of the largest conferencing facility in Christchurch.

The iconic hotel, which opened in 1966 as the White Heron Hotel, has long been a favourite temporary home among visiting dignitaries, international bands, Antarctic explorers and domestic travellers.

Acquired by the Jhunjhnuwala family in 1999, the hotel was re-branded as Sudima Christchurch Airport and became the first member of the Sudima Hotels and Resorts group). More than a landmark, it is a place of fond memories for visitors and staff alike, with a sense of family at its core.

If the hotel’s walls could talk, Sudima Christchurch Airport’s conference attendant Gordon McRory would be their voice. “Working in travel, you get a constant flow of people – it keeps you fresh. I’ve had various roles in my 35 years working at the hotel and these hotel walls have housed many great guests.

“I remember sitting in the hotel bar and chatting with David Lange about our mutual love of motor racing as he drank water and smoked a cigar. I’ve personally delivered breakfast to Helen Clark in her room on her many stays with us. And over the years we’ve been the temporary abode of many international musical acts, such as The Police. What I love most is getting to know the international Antarctic teams who base themselves with us year after year while they prepare for their long stays on the frozen continent.”

Sudima Christchurch Airport’s $25 million redevelopment was staged over two phases, the first of which was completed in late July 2015 and comprised an entire new wing of 88 new rooms – 68 executive rooms and 20 suites. The second phase (a new façade, lobby bar and restaurant, and refurbished and expanded conferencing facilities capable of hosting up to host up to 300 in theatre style) is now complete, drawing a close to the hotel’s lengthy construction project. However, the hotel still has further refurbishment work in its sights for the near future, and is actively seeking investment opportunities in other New Zealand regions.

Jan Kivell, short course and programme manager at NZ Institute of Highway Technology hosts short courses at least a couple of times a month and has trusted the services of Sudima Christchurch Airport for several years. “We always go to Sudima, even during the two-year development project as we know and trust the team will deliver, there is never any guessing. The facility, food, technology and rooms are perfect for our needs and the re-furbishment is an added bonus.”

Sudima Hotels and Resorts chief executive Sudesh Jhunjhnuwala says, “Sudima Christchurch Airport is significant not only to us, but to the community. We have built a strong family-focused team and I’m proud of what they have achieved in recent years, particularly in their tireless support of the many thousands of people displaced by the devastating 2011 earthquake. For three days at the height of the emergency, the hotel was a temporary home to 3,000 guests, as we provided food and shelter to those awaiting flights out of the city.

“The Sudima group is committed to Christchurch, and the current rate of local development shows that Christchurch means business. We see our investment as vital to the region’s economic growth as Canterbury regains its leisure and corporate travel foothold during the rebuild. Sudima Christchurch Airport was one of the few hotels left after the earthquakes, and with conferencing facilities at very low levels, our expansion has been warmly welcomed by the industry.”

The hotel has kept the needs of all guests in mind during the refurbishment and development works. Sudima has worked directly with the Be. Institute to lift the hotel’s current Be. Welcome accessibility rating of Bronze to the desired rating of Gold. Sudima was the first hotel group to undergo accessibility assessments with the Be. Institute and has involved the social change organisation at every stage of the refurbishment to confirm the necessary improvements, from tactile room numbering to wider doorways. With construction now complete, an updated accessibility assessment is underway and an updated rating imminent.

The Jhunjhnuwala family’s passion for a family-focused environment is evident in the artwork adorning the hotel’s walls. Artist and vice president of the Sudima group Laxmi Jhunjhnuwala has produced a collection of contemporary artworks that are hung in the hotel’s reception and in each room. The artwork also appears on the label of the hotel’s bathroom amenities.