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The better wine project

3 min·16 May, 2024

There are those of us who really ‘know’ their wine, and those who just know they like it. But the wine experts across Morris Group are making it their mission to close the wine gap and make better quality wines more accessible to more people, without the pretentiousness.

 

Great wine has always been part of Morris Group’s dining philosophy.

When a guest steps into one of Morris Hospitality’s pubs, a Morris Escapes luxury lodge, or one of the North Queensland hotels, there’s the unspoken promise of a quality drop.

In fact, many of its venues have been hailed for their wine lists, recognised by the industry as being amongst the country’s best.

But, after years of being an important supporting character to exceptional food and service, wine is having its big moment in the spotlight.

Morris Hospitality CEO Tim Fitzgerald is one of the driving forces behind what could be described as Morris Group’s ‘better wine project’, a series of initiatives happening across the group that are bringing good wine front and centre.

“There’s a cohesion between what we’re doing in our retail offering, our new wine club, and our series of wine events that really speaks to the idea that wine doesn’t have to be an exclusive thing that no one really understands,” Tim says.

“We really want more people to enjoy better wine.”

Levelling up

Central to this ambition is Morris Hospitality’s Wine Club.

The idea is pretty simple. By signing up to the club, members have access to discounted wine at Morris Hospitality venues.

“It allows people to enjoy more premium wines so where they might have probably bought an $80 bottle of wine, they might instead opt for one that’s usually $120,” Tim says.

“Not only is that a win for them, but it’s also win for us because it means our venues build an even stronger reputation around really exceptional wine along to go with the high standard of food and service.”

For Tim, cementing Morris Hospitality’s reputation as a leader in wine is key. He and his team have spent the last few years refining the group’s offering, buying and selling venues, rethinking menus, and unveiling a new brand identity earlier this year.

With the Wine Club now live across the venues, the vision is now coming to life.

“There’s no coincidence that we launched the Wine Club very soon after rebranding the group,” he says.

“I saw it as being a really clear and important part of our story that our venues are able to offer great wine at a more affordable price.

“We’ve put a lot of effort and time into resetting our portfolio of venues, the style of service, and the product that we deliver.

“I think there are plenty of pubs out there that can say they have credibility around serving great wine, but what we’ve created is an experience and style of service for wine that you’d usually see in restaurants not pubs.”

“Every venue has its own wine rep there, and the level of knowledge that we have across the group even just in our management teams is really extensive now.

“Because of that, we’re attracting more people into the group with that passion for wine, which is exactly what we’re aiming for.”

But Wine Club is just the beginning. The team is also leaning in on their increasingly popular wine dinners – they have 16 of them planned across the venues this year alone.

Tim says part of that experience is about exposing diners to wines they might not otherwise drink and expanding their wine knowledge in a down-to-earth and accessible way.

“We try to make those events fun and a little bit less stuffy than the typical wine event that’s purely for the wine nerds,” he says.

“It’s really about letting people enjoy wine from a region and getting a little bit of knowledge, rather than sitting down for a lecture about Burgundy for two hours before finally being able to drink some wine.”

Nerd mode activated

Self-confessed wine nerd, Brad Hammond is central to the business’ wine story.

As Morris Group’s General Manager of Wine, he’s responsible for developing and overseeing the wine lists for every pub, restaurant, hotel, resort, luxury lodge, and superyacht in the company’s expansive tourism and hospitality portfolios.

It’s a big job, so it’s probably a good thing wine is more of an obsession for him than just a job.

“There’s just an infinite amount to know about wine. You can never know it all,” Brad says.

“First there’s all the different grape varietals, and all the different areas they could be grown in. There’s the soil types, and the history of the land. And then there’s all the ways the wine can be made.

“There’s just such a level of depth to it that I find really, really interesting because you can never stop learning.”

Brad’s passion for wine was first sparked when he started working in fine dining restaurants early in his hospitality career.

He says there was just something about wine that caught his attention. Any chance to soak up some knowledge from those in the know was taken with both hands.

“I’m completely self-taught. Everything I know is just from my own experience and love of wine,” he says.

“I teach myself in my own time, I buy books, I read things on the internet, I go to tastings, I talk to people in the industry.”

Now, a big part of his role involves passing on that knowledge and cultivating the same kind of passion for wine in the teams working in the venues.

“Our venue staff are key, so we have to empower them with a level of knowledge that makes them confident enough to go to a table and explain the differences between certain styles or varieties,” Brad says.

“I love that side of the job. It can be difficult with such big venues spread between Victoria and Queensland, but I find the best way to do that kind of training is just spending a lot of time in the dining room during a lunch or dinner service and training people on the job.”

He’s making a list…

For Brad, working such a diversity of venues is like being set free in a great big playground. Sure, he could work at one of those small, boutique wine bars, but where’s the fun in that?

“It’s great because I get so many different lists to play around with,” he says.

“There’s everything from Splash Bar and Quarterdeck at The Ville in Townsville which both have very simple and small offerings; right up to places like Albert Park Hotel or The Railway Club Hotel that are known for their wines and have very specific cuisines to pair with.

“Albert Park has a Cantonese kitchen, and The Railway Club is a steakhouse, so immediately there’s going to be some clear differences.

“We can’t get enough big Aussie Shiraz at Railway Club, whereas at Albert Park everybody wants to drink Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and those lighter, white, aromatic wines that work so well with the food.”

So, what is the key to creating a wine list that’s not just good, but exceptional?

“I would say that what sets our wine lists apart from others is the access we have to really premium products that smaller businesses wouldn’t,” Brad says.

“We’re lucky as a big group to have buying power that means we can get premium wines from France and across the globe that others can’t.

“If you look at another venue’s list, it might have 100 wines on there but all of them are 2020 or 2021 because they’re the ones that are currently being released.

“We have a central cellar here with wines going back to the late 19th century which is pretty incredible when you think about it. Having access to those just takes a list to the next level.”

The keeper of the cellar

If there’s someone who knows their way around a wine cellar, it’s Pete Marr.

For people in wine industry circles, he is an undisputed legend. You don’t work in an industry for 40 years without building some serious credibility.

He even has a regular talkback radio spot on Melbourne’s 3AW with renowned chef Adrian Richardson covering all things food and wine.

Pete spent a decade running specialty wine stores around Melbourne before moving into wholesaling and then into marketing and selling directly to private clients.

For the last 15 years he’s been one of Morris Group’s secret weapons, continuing to sell premium wines direct to clients whilst also lending his expertise to the business as it grew its hospitality and tourism portfolio.

A major part of his role has been managing the all-important cellar. And for a wine aficionado like Pete, this cellar is truly special.

“The cellar wines mostly came from our (former) Western Australian businesses that had exceptional cellars,” Pete says.

“Actually, my first job when I joined Morris Group was to assess the cellar at Raffles which was quite extensive. It was a great opportunity for us because these were wines that you can’t access readily.

“Then we opened Print Hall in Perth, which was a big project at the height of the mining boom. It was a very high-end venue with a top sommelier from Sydney. He put together an incredible wine list.”

Tim says having access to this kind of quality and range of product is a major drawcard for Wine Club.

“Because we bought it so long ago and have taken care of it quite well, no one can sell it as cheap as we can,” Tim says.

“We’re talking about wines that are between 10 and 15 years old already. For those people who really know wine, they’ll see this stuff, particularly our European wines that have sat nicely for a long time and realise that it’s extraordinary value that we’re offering.

“There’s going to be a real depth of offer through the Wine Club that creates a situation where it makes sense for people to trade up from the basic house wine to something really nice.”

The full circle

The final but important piece of the puzzle is one that must feel like a bit of a full circle moment for Pete: a new wine store and bar at The Vincent Hotel in Albert Park due to open this winter.

The concept is something that the group has been thinking about for a little while, but the timing hasn’t been quite right. Until now.

“We’ll be able to use the power we have as a group in terms of our wine buying to offer really lovely, premium wines that are well priced,” Pete says.

“It’s going to add another layer to the whole wine story we’re trying to tell. It’ll be more relaxed opportunity for people to come down and explore.

“We’ll have wines opened down there all the time for people to come and taste. There will always be someone in the store that’s got great knowledge that can talk to you and give you some guidance.

“My theory on wine is that it’s there to make you feel better and happier. You don’t need to know a lot about wine to enjoy it, but the more you know the more you will enjoy it.”

 

Find out more about Morris Hospitality Wine Club 

Taking the controls

3 mins·10 Apr, 2024

Starting off with just one aircraft and only the vaguest idea of what he was getting himself into, Aaron Finn has built Nautilus Aviation into Northern Australia’s biggest helicopter operator. And it all started with a beer and a handshake at Townsville’s Seaview Hotel.

 

Aaron Finn knows more than most about building something from scratch.

Long before he had even learned how to fly a helicopter, the Nautilus Aviation CEO was building houses.

“I started out as a carpenter. I’d left school when I was 15 and nine months. The teachers sort of said I was better suited to a trade than causing disruptions at school,” he laughs.

“I was living in a small town in country Victoria with about 5,000 people called Kyabram and got a job with one of the local builders as an apprentice chippy. And that’s where everything started with my building career.”

Even all these years and a whole career change later, his love for building things has never completely left him. He’s still a registered builder and even led the construction of Morris Escapes’ luxury outback retreat Mt Mulligan Lodge.

When the Nautilus base in Cairns was damaged by the floods at the end of 2023, Aaron put his skills to work to get things back up and running again.

But despite this enduring love for his trade, when the idea for a change in direction presented itself he was all in.

The winds of change

“It all started with a joy flight in a helicopter with my dad over Kakadu,” he said.

“It’s hard to describe what it was exactly, but when you take off there’s just that feeling you get as you’re flying away. I just thought it was pretty cool at the time.”

Whatever that feeling was, Aaron was certain that flying helicopters was something he wanted to do. He just needed a bit of time and an extra nudge to make it happen.

Fast forward ten years or so to 2007, when Aaron was working on a building site in Port Douglas. Now in his mid-30s and at a major crossroads in his personal life, he was looking to make a drastic change.

“I was actually building (Flight Centre co-founder) Geoff Harris’ house in Port Douglas. I remember driving out the gate one day and there’s a helicopter landing on the helipads nearby,” he said.

“And as it landed, I don’t know why but I just thought, ‘That’s what I’m going to be. What have I got to lose?’ and I booked in to do my license the next day.”

A pilot’s life

What followed was 12 months of training which Aaron says came with many challenges.

“I was about 34, so I was a late starter compared to most pilots who’re starting when they’re in their early 20s,” he said.

“The practical training is challenging. You need to have good hand-eye coordination. One of the hardest aspects is hovering.

“You do 105 hours of flight time, and there’s also seven subjects and then exams that you have to complete. I failed some of the exams and I won’t lie, a lot of that was due to me being busy working at the same time.

“You had to book your exams in advance, and I’d set a reminder and then the day before I’d get a Outlook alert for an aviation exam tomorrow. So, I’d get the books out that night and try and do a whole subject in a night and try and sit the exams. I don’t recommend it.”

But in the end, it was worth the stress for the pay-off of being able to fly.

“I remember the first time I flew. Funnily enough the guy who was supervising is one of our pilots (at Nautilus) still to this day!” he said.

“We took off and went up over Barron Gorge and Kuranda and not long after we were airborne he gave me the cyclic and said ‘You’ve now got control of this thing’. It’s pretty daunting at the time, but exciting.

“You do about 20 hours of training before you go solo. That first time when you’re flying and you look at the empty seat beside you, it’s that’s probably the biggest moment in any pilot’s career.”

Perhaps another moment from his career as a pilot that Aaron won’t forget too soon was the time he ended up giving some tourists an unexpected diving trip.

“I’ve only crashed once, and that’s one time too many,” he says.

“In 2011, I had some Chinese tourists returning from a day on the reef, and I had an engine failure and had to ditch.

“We were only up 400 feet, so it was a matter of five or six seconds between the engine stopping and us hitting the water. I went for a swim that day, but everyone was fine except the helicopter.”

The incident serves as a testament to Aaron’s calmness under pressure – a trait he says is crucial to being a good pilot.

“I think the best pilots are the ones that are calm and easy going when you get into an emergency situation,” he said.

“If you come across a highly strung pilot that panics when you get to an emergency situation, you want somebody that’s calm and going to be able to manage it.”

New horizons

With a few solid years of flying under his belt, Aaron’s next challenge was just around the corner.

Unlike his former career as a builder, this new venture didn’t come with a blueprint. There was no clear plan. Just a vague idea to build something great. And it was all signed, sealed and delivered with a beer and a handshake at Townsville’s legendary Seaview Hotel.

That, according to Aaron, is a pretty accurate summary of first meeting Morris Group Founder and Executive Chairman, Chris Morris.

In 2011, Nautilus Aviation consisted of one helicopter and one pilot. The North Queensland region had just been battered by Cyclone Yasi, and Aaron found himself in the thick of it helping to transport people and equipment between Cairns and Townsville.

After a chance encounter with the then Nautilus pilot, Aaron found himself stepping in to assist some passengers heading to Hinchinbrook Island.

“The passengers were giving him a hard time because they had all this gear and they had to take with them, but he couldn’t fit it in. Luckily, three of my passengers didn’t turn up so I just went over and offered to take the gear over,” Aaron said.

“After that we got talking and I said, ‘If you ever need a hand flying, give me a call’, so we kept talking after the cyclone was all over, and he ended up getting me to come and fill in for him at one stage.

“It started off with a flight every couple of days, and then, as Orpheus Island got busier and busier I started doing two flights a day. I may as well be working full-time.

“Chris ended up calling me from the UK and just thanked me for helping out and offered to meet at the Seaview. So, we just had a chat there over a steak and a couple of beers that night and shook hands, and that’s just where it started.”

And with that, Aaron’s new career trajectory leading Nautilus Aviation had begun.

From little things, big things grow

Although the whole business consisted of himself, one helicopter, and a schedule full of transfers to Orpheus Island, it wasn’t long before Aaron could see a world of untapped potential.

“I just said to Chris, ‘We can do more than just island transfers. I want to go and have a crack at getting some other work.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, go for it!’

“He’s been supportive the whole way through and supporting my direction and the things that I wanted to go after with the business, and it’s worked really well.”

From there what followed was steady but consistent growth. A new helicopter here; another base there; acquiring the competition over here.

Today, Nautilus Aviation has over 120 staff members across eight bases in Cairns, Townsville, Port Douglas, Horn Island, Darwin, and Kakadu; and a fleet of more than 40 aircraft.

But despite the undoubted success, it hasn’t always been clear skies.

“Hands down COVID was one of the hardest things I’ve had to go through from both a business and personal perspective,” Aaron said.

“Having to personally tell over 80 employees that they no longer have a job is probably one of the most taxing things I’ve been through.

“But being able to pivot the business through that period to being more commercial focused gave us the opportunity to recover faster and rebuild our workforce again.”

Aaron chalks most of the business’ success to being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of every opportunity that presented itself.

“To be honest it’s all a bit of a blur, but I’m proud of what we’ve achieved,” he said.

“There was never a plan to be the biggest operator or anything like that. I just wanted to always do a good job, and to provide the best customer service that we could.

“I think what initially built the business was the customer service side of things and the relationships that you build. You can’t do it without having great people around you. Everything’s about people.

“It’s taken a lot of time and perseverance to make things what they are today and what we’ll make it in the future. We’re not done yet.”

Leading with the heart

3 mins·7 Mar, 2024

It’s one thing to be passionate about the environment and social justice. It’s a whole other thing to turn that passion into real action. We find out how Hayley and Nikki Morris let their passion take the lead in building Morris Family Foundation, and the little lightbulb moments that helped them find their way.

 

Nikki and Hayley Morris are each other’s biggest cheerleaders.

When they’re asked to name the qualities that impress them most about their sister, a few themes shine through.

“Nikki’s biggest strength is probably her ability to connect with anyone,” Hayley says.

“She has an ability to be present and hear people. She makes people feel special and important. People warm to her and want to be around her.”

For Nikki, it’s Hayley’s dedication and passion for helping others that makes the biggest impact.

“She is inspiring,” Nikki says.

“I love spending time with Hays. She is my best friend.”

With their strong bond at the core, the sister duo has turned their individual strengths and shared values into important work that is making a difference for people and communities all over Australia and overseas through Morris Family Foundation.

The foundation supports innovative and grassroots projects that work to address social, economic, and environmental issues by creating systemic change to tackle their root cause.

It works across five areas of focus, including: community transitions for a safe climate; regenerative agriculture; oceans and reefs; First Nations Australians; and international development.

The organisations funded by the foundation are working on projects like vital research and restoration work on the Great Barrier Reef; lobbying some of the country’s largest companies to switch to green energy and electric vehicles; transitioning our agriculture industry to regenerative farming practices; indigenous training and employment programs; and rescuing children who are victims of human trafficking and slavery.

Finding the way

In hindsight, Hayley and Nikki’s work with the foundation shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. They’ve both shared an interest in the great outdoors from an early age, and developed strong passions for the environment, community health and wellbeing, and social justice along the way.

But they both admit the path to the foundation’s current state wasn’t always clear or easy.

When their father, Computershare founder and Morris Group Executive Chairman Chris Morris first set up the foundation in 2008, Hayley and Nikki saw it as their opportunity to make a real difference. They just weren’t exactly sure what that looked like.

“At first our focus was on medical research, especially cancer research as my mum was diagnosed with multiple myeloma,” Nikki says.

“I think we always agreed that we wanted it to be pretty personal so we could all have our say on who we wanted to fund and which direction we took.”

Hayley says while those early days of the foundation were exciting and full of possibility, they weren’t without challenges.

“The biggest challenge was making decisions as a family. Initially it would get a bit heated,” Hayley says.

“When (current CEO) Penny Cottle joined Morris Group as CFO, she sat in a meeting and afterwards said to me: ‘I thought philanthropy was supposed to be the part that made everyone feel good?’

“That was probably a light bulb moment that we weren’t doing things well. After that, Penny and I went about putting in place structures and process which helped immensely in the decision making.”

The early days

To fully understand how and why the foundation grew into what it is today, you have to take a few steps back and look at Hayley and Nikki’s individual pathways.

Growing up as a sports-loving, outdoorsy type with an obsession for Formula One racing, Hayley says it was the time she spent on the family farm that ended up being the most pivotal to her finding her biggest passion.

“We spent many of our childhood years on the farm on the weekends,” Hayley says.

“That had a profound impact on me in later years as I came back to farming and agriculture as an interest area.

“Back then, like most teenagers I don’t think I knew the direction I would go. I probably always saw myself doing something in the business world and likely working with Dad.

“I started a degree in public relations straight out of school but became disillusioned with the course pretty quickly. I ended up going to work for Dad in Chicago as his personal assistant. I came home from that experience and changed my degree to international business and worked for Computershare while I studied.

“I worked closely with Dad and my aunty Penny over those years including some amazing overseas work experiences in Boston and London. But in 2006, I decided to leave Computershare to pursue my interest in the environment.

“At this point I did a lot of volunteering and went back to uni to do a postgrad in sustainability which led me to starting Sustainable Table and then Impact Sustainability.”

For Nikki, the initial entry into the corporate world and then pivot towards her passions was much the same.

“As a kid I honestly didn’t have any clue on what I wanted to do. Maybe be in business, following Dad’s footsteps or something along those lines,” Nikki says.

“I ended up studying marketing to start with, but that was probably because I didn’t have a clear direction on what I really wanted to do. I’m not much of a planner.

“I worked for Donohue Financial Planning and GE Equipment Finance after I finished my studies. But I realised a few years into it that this kind of career wasn’t for me. So, I quit in my late 20s and went and did a three-month yoga teacher training course overseas.

“Once I returned home, I taught yoga and started working for Sustainable Table which Hayley had just founded and joined Hayley working directly on the day-to-day operations of the foundation.

“Since then, I’ve completed a meditation teacher training course, another more in-depth 350-hour yoga teacher training course, and eventually ran my own yoga studio in Middle Park which focused on teaching kids’ yoga, meditation, relaxation techniques and how to manage their emotions. At the moment, I’m back studying again and am four months into completing a two-year diploma in Ayurveda.”

The Morris Family

The lightbulb moments

As the pair each pursued their own careers and interests, they continued to narrow their focus on how to build the foundation and create real change that aligned with their passion areas.

“My time at Sustainable Table taught me so much about climate change, waste, and protecting the environment in general,” Nikki says.

“We were really focused on changing people’s habits through the food they consumed, and also being aware of waste, composting, recycling and reusing.

“My interest in Sustainable Table was originally all about waste. I just remember getting so passionate about waste and not consuming anything that was unnecessary, never buying anything in a bottle or plastic, making a lot of my foods from scratch and buying in bulk.

“Hayley was definitely part of lighting this spark and getting me motivated and inspired to do things better.”

Hayley says the big lightbulb moment that really ignited her passion for the environment came during a family holiday overseas.

“We were on holiday in South Africa and visiting game parks. After learning, watching, and participating in a functioning ecosystem the whole time it dawned on me that as humans we’re not a part of this. In fact, it was only a highly functioning ecosystem because humans had been kept out of the national parks,” she says.

“That really hit home for me the idea that the way we lived was not going to allow our species to survive and thrive into the future – when we operate like earth’s resources are infinite. We are destroying our future every day the more we extract and create waste. We have to learn to be a part of the ecosystem as opposed to being above and controlling it.”

The important things

Looking through the foundation’s focus areas today, the links to Hayley and Nikki, their passions, and their values are clear.

For example, their support for international development projects, especially in Africa, stems from the pair spending a lot of time travelling in the continent. The oceans and reefs projects are a direct result of the family purchasing Orpheus Island Lodge in tropical North Queensland and them beginning their crash course in learning more about the reef. And so on.

They say that the nature of philanthropic work, especially in the environmental space, means that sometimes there aren’t the immediately obvious big wins on the board – big systemic change takes time to really start seeing progress. But they still find opportunities where they can step back and be proud of the foundation’s success.

“In the early days Hayley and I went on a couple of trips to see some of the overseas projects we were funding in Cambodia, Tibet, and Kenya,” Nikki says.

“To actually meet the people on the ground doing all the hard work was amazing and knowing in a small way we were able to contribute to helping people’s lives improve was so rewarding.”

For Hayley, it’s much the same.

“I have immense gratitude to Dad for setting up Morris Group and the foundation, because it allows me to work on the things that I am passionate about,” Hayley says.

“It is such an honour to be in a position to be able to support these amazing organisations and the people who work so hard to make the world a better place.”

And at the end of the day, the extra reward for them is the opportunity to work closely together and focus on the things that really matter.

“We have the same values at heart for sure, and I will always respect her opinion,” Nikki says of Hayley.

“Any opportunity to talk and spend time with Nikki is a blessing on my day,” Hayley says.

“We are probably quite different in terms of our working style and some of our traits in this area. But we are very similar in our philosophy of life, our values, how we parent, and the things that are really important in life.”

Northern Escape Collection rebrands as Morris Escapes

2 mins·5 Mar, 2024

Northern Escape Collection, home to a curated portfolio of boutique sustainable lodges, has today rebranded as Morris Escapes.

The new identity marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for the business, building on its strong reputation for creating memorable experiences at one-of-a-kind destinations, including Orpheus Island Lodge, Mt Mulligan Lodge, Beechmont Estate, and the recently opened Pelorus Private Island.

Morris Group Executive Chairman Chris Morris said the new name aimed to better connect the portfolio with its parent brand, Morris Group.

The inspiration for the new logo comes from Morris Group’s foundations as a family-owned business, starting with the letter ‘M’ representing Chris Morris and the Morris family.

“This new identity means our luxury lodges are more closely aligned with the rest of Morris Group and strengthens the connection between Morris Escapes’ unique travel experiences and the rest of our tourism portfolio,” Mr Morris said.

Morris Group owns and operates a range of tourism experiences across Queensland including The Ville Resort – Casino and the recently opened luxury hotel Ardo in Townsville.

The portfolio also includes Morris Nautical, which operates a fleet of luxury superyachts out of Port Douglas; and Morris Aviation which includes Nautilus Aviation, North Queensland’s largest private helicopter business, HeliFish, and a newly acquired jet aviation business.

Mr Morris said while the name and branding might be new, the guest experience at Morris Escapes lodges will stay the same.

“Our exceptional Morris Escapes team will continue delivering the same outstanding service, and their unique brand of understated luxury that people have come to know and love,” Mr Morris said.

The closer connection between Morris Escapes with the rest of Morris Group also means that all the exciting career opportunities that go with being part of a large and successful company become clearer for our people who are wanting to build their careers in hospitality and tourism.

“With today’s rebrand and the recent opening of Pelorus Private Island, there’s never been a more exciting time to be part of Morris Escapes,” Mr Morris said.

Morris Escape’s new visual identity has been brought to life on the new group website, which is now live and ready to be explored at morrisescapes.com.au

All smiles, sky high

1 min·29 Feb, 2024

Whether she’s in the air or has her feet firmly on the ground, Brooke Wilson-Bishop’s approach to her work is always the same.

For Brooke, the key to delivering exceptional customer service and being a highly valued member of the Nautilus Aviation team comes down to two simple words: passion and positivity.

It’s that mantra that’s seen her awarded Nautilus’ highly coveted annual Above and Beyond Award for 2023, as well as winning the monthly award twice – a pretty impressive feat considering she only joined the team in August 2022.

“I feel incredibly lucky to have won the Above and Beyond Award for 2023. Reading the feedback each month was a big highlight and it was nice to feel like my efforts were very appreciated,” she said.

“I have an amazing bunch of work colleagues whom I am privileged to work alongside every day.

“I just try to promote a positive and friendly environment to leave a great impression. A smile is free, and it instantly makes people feel welcome.”

When she relocated to Far North Queensland from New Zealand, Brooke already had a Diploma in Aviation under her belt. All she needed was the perfect opportunity.

And just like that, her career in aviation took off when she landed a role at Nautilus’ Cairns heliport, first as part of the reservations teams and with the ground crew.

“Nautilus Aviation has given me the opportunity to develop my skills and open a pathway to an exciting career,” she said.

“Starting out as a member of the Cairns base meant working in a high-volume environment. From cruise ship days to wet weather days, it was a great opportunity to work closely and cooperatively as a team to achieve goals together.

“Almost a year later I moved on to work as ground crew, assisting our pilots and the operations team with daily tasks to help the everything run smoothly. No two days were the same and I thrived in the environment.

“Fast forward to now, and I’m now a line pilot. I get to fly around a pretty special part of the world, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.”

Despite the unique set of challenges that come with working in tropical North Queensland like humidity and the unpredictability of the wet season, Brooke says it’s the customers who make it all worth it in the end.

“I love watching people experience this incredible part of the world for the first time,” she said.

“For a lot of our customers it’s their first time in a helicopter, and they always come back smiling.”

Tales from the frontline

2 mins·16 Feb, 2024

Over the last 12 months, communities all over Far North Queensland have been devastated by a string of natural disasters: bushfires, floods, cyclones, and more bushfires.

From other parts of the country, we’ve watched on as homes were lost, businesses were destroyed, and people’s lives were thrown into disarray.

But amongst the devastation, we’ve also witnessed communities banding together under the most trying of circumstances. People helping each other through some of the worst moments of their lives.

Every step of the way, teams of emergency services workers and SES volunteers have put themselves in harm’s way to help the search and rescue, and recovery efforts. Supporting those efforts has been some of Morris Group’s own.

Aside from their usual day-to-day business of tourism and corporate helicopter services, the team from Nautilus Aviation has a long, proud history of providing helicopter search and rescue, firefighting, and medevac transportation across North Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Chief Operations Officer Morgan Sills says the last year has certainly kept the team on their toes.

This time last year we had multiple helicopters in Burketown and Normanton providing flood relief for residents for about six weeks,” Morgan said.

“Shortly after that we went straight into bushfire season working in the remote areas west of Cairns, where we had seven pilots working to protect homes.

Nautilus Aviation Chief Operations Officer, Morgan Sills

“We were helping out by water bombing the fires and providing air attack which is coordinating the bombers from the air as well as mapping the active fire edge. We were able to save multiple assets and homes.”

Unfortunately, the fires were just the beginning. The team then switched gears to help out when Tropical Cyclone Jasper brought a deluge of rain unlike anything the region had ever seen before. With that came a few extra complications.

“The Cairns airport went completely underwater which had a severe impact on our largest base and head office,” Morgan said.

“Pretty much straight after that we were tasked by Queensland Fire and Emergency Services and Queensland Police to fly emergency crews to the remote Indigenous communities of Wujal Wujal, Ayton and Degarra who were impacted by heavy, fast-flowing flood waters.

“This operation went on for many weeks because there were countless people all over the region that had been cut off. We helped out with evacuations, surveying damage from the air, resupply, transporting government workers, and carrying materials and fuel.”

While every day on disaster recovery comes with its fair share of stories, Morgan says some hit home a bit more than others.

“I was doing welfare checks with two police officers in the Daintree Valley after Cyclone Jasper, and we landed at a house that had been completely isolated and cut off for four days,” he said.

“An elderly woman came out of the house. She was running out of food, water and fuel for her generator, and had no phone service because the phone towers had gone down in her area. She was due to have her pacemaker replaced in a few days and had no way of contacting anyone.

“The look of relief and gratitude on her face was very rewarding. We were stoked to be able to help her out of a scary situation.”

Morgan says the very nature of working during a disaster means it comes with its fair share of challenges. But with that, there’s also a big reward.

“The work itself can be very sporadic. Quite often you’ll be in the air heading back to base after a job and you’ll be sent a latitude and longitude for another job, and you have to just figure out a safe place to land when you get there,” he said.

“It takes a lot of on-the-spot critical decision making that you don’t usually have in our normal everyday work because that’s planned out weeks in advance.

“It’s also a really busy time for our operations team receiving the jobs and tasking them to the helicopters they have available; and for our support staff on the ground with refuelling and loading up helicopters for up to 12 hours a day.

“But at the end of the day, it’s a good feeling knowing that what you’re doing is providing people and communities with the essential care and support, and making a difference for people who are in a very dire situation.”

Welcome to the Great Barrier Reef’s most secluded getaway

2 mins·8 Feb, 2024

Morris Escapes’ latest jewel in the crown, Pelorus Private Island has officially opened its doors.

Perched on the pristine waters of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, Pelorus Private Island offers an utterly secluded oasis like no other, accessible via a breathtaking 30–90-minute private helicopter charter from Townsville or Cairns, or by superyacht.

Neighbouring Morris Escapes’ Orpheus Island Lodge, Pelorus boasts a naturally isolated residence, featuring five luxurious suites, surrounded by 400 hectares of untouched habitat.

Designed by Melbourne-based design and interior architecture studio, Dubois, Pelorus combines timeless design with the breathtaking beauty of the Great Barrier Reef.

Crafted with clean-lines and a contemporary aesthetic, the spacious dwelling is clad with white-washed shiplap inside and out, boasting five ocean-facing suites only a stone’s throw from the reef, and decorated with natural linen fabrics, hand-made custom furniture and lavish ensuites with spotted gum benchtops.

Spacious, light-filled communal lounges and dining areas are complete with stunning Coral Sea views over the beachfront pool and generous spotted gum verandas with comfortable nooks and lounges.

Natural hardwood timber posts and hand-sanded feature columns support the expansive cathedral-inspired ceilings, with Palladian limestone and quartzite stone benchtops throughout.

The residence is powered only by solar panels and batteries, ensuring a self-sustainable energy supply, with natural materials and ventilation systems incorporated into the design to minimise the hideaway’s environmental impact.

Guests are invited to indulge in relaxation and barefoot adventure, with Great Barrier Reef activities including diving and snorkeling, guided jet ski and seabob tours, and reef fishing all on offer, as well as boat charters to the Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA) installation.

The island also provides access to the untouched wilderness of Hinchinbrook Island, Australia’s largest island national park, home to rainforest-clad hiking trails, cascading waterfalls, abundant wildlife and diverse flora.

Back at the residence, a private chef awaits, alongside a fully stocked bar, teppanyaki grill, Big Green Egg barbeque and Ooni pizza oven.

Pelorus Private Island joins Morris Group’s North Queensland tourism portfolio curated to offer uniquely Australian experiences that have elevated the region’s position as a world-class tourist destination.

“With the region welcoming the news of an ultra-luxe accommodation offering, Pelorus Private Island puts Queensland in a competitive global landscape, by boasting a rare offering of unparalleled levels of privacy and personalised service that is unique in this part of the world,” Morris Group Founder and Executive Chairman Chris Morris said.

“We’re already starting to fill the year with bookings and can’t wait to share this exceptional product with guests from around the globe.”


What people are saying about Pelorus Private Island

“Pelorus Private Island isn’t a resort as much as an ultra-luxe holiday home with an entire island as its backyard.”

The Herald Sun

“Complete with several hundred hectares of virgin forest, a private chef, architecturally designed villas, and unlimited privacy, this could be one of Australia’s very best accommodations.”

~ Nick Kenyon, Boss Hunting

What does it take to open a new luxury hotel?

5 mins·25 Jan, 2024

If you’ve never worked in a hotel before, you’ve probably never thought about what goes on behind the scenes to make your holiday seamless at every stage of the journey.

The video of that amazing view that catches your eye on social media. The website where you book your stay. The form you fill out when you check-in. The design of your room. The selection of treats in the mini bar. The way you order room service. The room cleaning schedule. The type of towel waiting for you on the poolside sunlounge.

Every single detail has been thoughtfully considered, meticulously planned, and specifically chosen to create that unique experience; and everything has a team of people making it happen.

So, what does it actually take to open a brand-new hotel? Beth Van Kooten might know a thing or two about the subject.

As the Front Office Manager for The Ville Resort-Casino and more recently of Townsville’s first five-star hotel Ardo, Beth and her team were involved in the huge task of making the concept of relaxed, North Queensland luxury a reality.

In December, Beth was able to watch as 18 months of tireless work finally came to fruition when Ardo officially welcomed its first guests.

“For me, being at the grand opening and seeing everyone’s faces when they saw the final product was such a full circle moment,” Beth said.

“I could finally step back and see everything we accomplished.”

Getting to that point was no easy feat. Leading the hotel operations team meant working through quite the to-do list if Ardo was going to be ready for its highly anticipated opening.

Aside from some of the fun little jobs like testing mini bar options and bathroom products, Beth and her team were tasked with building and preparing all of the systems that work in the background to run every aspect of the hotel.

There was also developing labour plans and rostering; forecasting the hotel’s revenue and developing revenue strategies; working closely with travel agencies, major corporate accounts, and third-party booking sites to build anticipation about Ardo, quality control over the hotel rooms and amenities; and setting up office spaces to run as efficiently as possible.

But there was one aspect of the project that was crucial to Ardo’s success pre-opening and beyond.

“The biggest job was training and motivating the team. It’s easy to get bogged down in the administration requirements when you’re opening a hotel because it’s a huge feat, but you can’t do it without a dedicated and passionate team,” she said.

“Recruitment was very challenging. We have a big skillset shortage in our industry after COVID, so we had to be innovative and not focus on putting people in roles for the sake of it and spend the time finding the right fits.

“I’m so proud of the team we’ve pulled together and what we’ve achieved. Without them we wouldn’t have seen the hotel open as successfully as it did. I feel so lucky to be working with such a wonderful group of people who have dedicated a lot of their time and energy in ensuring this project was a success.”

To help with the huge task of training a fresh team to operate a shiny new hotel and make sure it lives up to the Ardo promise of luxury, Beth enlisted some help from within Morris Group’s ranks.

The team at Northern Escape Collection (NEC) is all too familiar with what it takes to deliver a true luxury experience at Orpheus Island Lodge, Mt Mulligan Lodge, and the newly opened Pelorus Private Island.

Enter Ian Ireland. One of NEC’s long-serving team members, Ian first started as Restaurant Manager on Orpheus Island back in 2016 and has since been an Assistant Lodge Manager at Mt Mulligan Lodge, worked in the reservations team, and provided management support across the lodges.

Having worked in hospitality and tourism for over a decade, Ian’s also had a crash course in opening a few new hotels including Hayman Island and Crown Towers in Perth.

Ian’s role on the Ardo project was to support Beth in training the team and setting up all the processes behind the scenes to ensure the Ardo experience was a memorable one for its guests.

“The main goal was to ensure a seamless first interaction with the reservations team,” Ian said.

“We knew that guests at Ardo would have higher expectations from their stay, so the level of detail we needed to collect from the beginning was really important; from asking for arrival times, some of their food and drink preferences, and making restaurant reservations prior to their arrival. It’s knowing those details that make the difference in service.”

From there, training was all about following the simple ‘practice makes perfect’ method.

“I always say a hotel is like a rugby team. The longer we train together the better we perform together,” Ian said.

“It’s about looking closely at the daily operations, pinpointing what doesn’t work, and finding ways to fix it; whether we need a quick five-minute catch up with the housekeeping team to go over room allocations, or to liaise with the VIP Concierge team to go over pick-up and drop-off times.”

Beth says the collaboration with Northern Escape Collection has been instrumental in helping her build a strong and efficient team.

“Ian has been so supportive throughout the process. Together we’ve been able to set up a way of doing things that works best for our team and ultimately our guests,” she said.

“The team has grown so much. We are more adaptable, we are more innovative, we have a larger skillset, and we support each other every step of the way.”

Working as one

2 mins·13 Dec, 2023

Behind the scenes of Morris Group’s tourism and hospitality businesses there’s change in the air.

It’s not the kind of change that would be immediately obvious to the untrained eye, but the impact is significant and undeniable.

Earlier in the year, the executive leadership team from Morris Hospitality, Northern Escape Collection, and The Ville Resort-Casino started meeting regularly to find ways the businesses can work more closely together with a particular slant on food and beverage.

Their collaboration has meant that in the months that have followed, they’ve managed to make some changes that have seen them reduce costs, improve processes, share knowledge, and find new ways to approach problems as one team rather than individual businesses.

But one of the biggest advantages of the businesses coming together has been their ability to flex their purchasing power as a collective and negotiate better deals with suppliers to benefit everyone.

Strength in numbers

Northern Escape Collection (NEC) CEO Ross Penegar said the collaboration was a no-brainer.

Northern Escape Collection CEO, Ross Penegar

“It just made sense for us all to come together. It means we can really take a close look at some of the top-level stuff that tends to get lost in day-to-day operations,” he said.

“And for us, because NEC’s properties are smaller, more boutique, and all-inclusive, we don’t go through as much stock as The Ville or any of the Morris Hospitality pubs so our ability to negotiate on our own is pretty limited.

“So, when we join our lodges with all the other venues, it works out well for us all.”

But Ross says over time the coordinated effort has evolved from being focused just on food and beverage suppliers.

“We’ve also started moving into things like hotel amenities. So across Northern Escape Collection, The Ville, and Ardo there will be consistency with the amenities,” he said.

“And it also means that we can look at our whole supply chains from a sustainability point of view and see whether we can make any improvements in terms of the impact we’re making as a group.”

A world of opportunity

The Ville CEO Michael Jones said collaboration between the three business also means opening up new opportunities for staff across the group.

“Something we’ve been talking about a lot is how we give staff the opportunity to move around between the different businesses more easily,” he said.

The Ville Resort -Casino & Ardo CEO, Michael Jones

“If people are wanting to develop their skills and grow their career in hospitality, there’s a huge benefit in getting some experience in a range of different venues and roles. It’s good for staff, and it’s good for the business to have experienced people sharing their expertise around the group.”

“We also know that some of our venues have higher demand depending on the season, so what we’re working towards is giving people those opportunities to move from Townsville to do a summer at Portsea Hotel or go from one of the Melbourne venues in winter and work at Orpheus Island.”

Knowledge is power

Morris Hospitality’s Chief Operations Officer Paul Fitzsimmons said another important outcome of the businesses operating more closely has come in the form of sharing knowledge and ideas.

It’s perhaps most evident in the “all hands on deck” attitude that’s been the driving force behind getting the group’s new hotel Ardo up and running.

Morris Hospitality Chief Operations Officer, Paul Fitzsimmons

“We’ve had people from across all the businesses bringing their particular skills and knowledge to get everything set up for Ardo, it’s really been a huge team effort,” he said.

“Morris Group Executive Chef Peter Reffell and Head of Wine Brad Hammond have been involved in developing the food and wine menus respectively; Ian Ireland from Northern Escape Collection has helped on hotel amenities and with training for the reservations team.”

Paul says hearing about the different business’ individual successes has also helped them adopt new ideas to try across the group.

“The Morris Hospitality venues have been having some really great results from the CBCo Brewing Unofficial Beer of Thursday promotion in the last few months, so now we’re launching it at The Ville to see if it does the same there.”

Bridging the gaps

Apart from the obvious benefits to the business, Ross, Michael and Paul all agree that the added bonus is being able to build strong relationships with their peers across the group.

“We all run quite different businesses, have different backgrounds, and our individual strengths, so in that respect it’s been really great to learn from each other and see things from a different perspective,” Ross said.

“I’ve really been enjoying the opportunity to get to know everyone a bit better. We all knew each other to some degree before, but we never really had the chance to work closely together and build those relationships. That can only be a positive thing for the business,” Michael said.

“It’s been great being able to draw on people’s different experience and pick each other’s brains to come up with the best solutions,” Paul said.

“I think the more we do that across the group at all levels, the better the outcomes are going to be.”

Ardo officially opens

2 mins·11 Dec, 2023

Townsville’s first luxury hotel, Ardo has officially opened with its first guests checking in today.

From high-end accommodation across 132 rooms and suites, world-class dining, and a luxurious day spa to a stunning rooftop pool deck with postcard-worthy views across the Coral Sea, Ardo is set to redefine North Queensland’s hotel landscape.

Ardo and The Ville CEO Michael Jones said Ardo is one of the most highly anticipated hotel openings of the year for Queensland.

“Ardo is unlike anything Townsville has ever seen, it is a luxurious offering that will elevate how visitors can experience this beautiful tropical region,” Mr Jones said.

“It is the perfect getaway for couples, families and friends, there truly is something for everyone and we’re so excited to welcome our first guests.”

Guests will be able to choose from three different hotel room options including Courtyard, Marina or Ocean, with each room offering luxurious space and either a private balcony or courtyard to bask in the tropical breeze.

All rooms and suites are finished with cork floors paired with free-form concrete ceilings and bespoke bathrooms in terrazzo surfaces and mosaic tiles, complemented by make-up mirror, dual shower heads with rainfall shower and fluffy bathrobes. Plus enjoy high-tech inclusions such as a tablet control centre, Wi-Fi, LCD television and streaming of all your favourite apps.

The suites and rooms are complete with all of the five-star service inclusions you would expect, from a fully stocked gourmet mini bar, lavish in-room dining and first-class housekeeping – so you don’t have to lift a finger.

When it comes to dining, guests will be able to choose from three restaurant offerings, the biggest luxury multi-restaurant launch ever seen in Townsville, each designed to sit at the top of Queensland’s culinary experiences list.

Marmor is inspired by the region’s world-class meat and seafood offerings with a focus on offering contemporary Australian cuisine; while the casual yet cool Japanese restaurant, Terasu, will present a lively take on traditional Japanese fare.

The signature Ardo Rooftop, overlooking the stunning infinity pool and coral sea, is the perfect place to unwind and let your worries float away. Restaurants are strictly bookings only.

For those looking for some pampering, the Ardo Day Spa will launch a new level of resort-styled relaxation. Ardo guests will also be able to access The Ville precinct’s amenities which include the famous oceanside swimming pool with a swim-up bar, hotel gym and casino.

Visit Ardo Hotel to book your stay or subscribe to receive updates.

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