Penny Rafferty of Luxury Lodges of Australia talks about the group’s sustainability ethos

by Melinda Healy

Whether attracted by the rare Wollemi Pine grove at Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley or the rich Indigenous connection that Bouddi National Park offers Pretty Beach House guests, Luxury Lodges of Australia properties like these certainly tick all the sustainable tourism boxes AND all 18 of them leave guests ‘green’ with envy.  

“The lodges are a collection of independently owned and operated properties… all regional and all in locations that have a compelling reason to ‘do’ something,” the group’s executive officer Penny Rafferty told Sustainable Guides recently.

sustainable Luxury Lodges of Australia
Credit: Luxury Lodges of Australia

Rafferty has been a part of the Luxury Lodges of Australia (LLOA) family since its formation in 2010. Previously general manager of The Louise in South Australia, the tourism expert who still calls South Australia’s Barossa Valley home, has been there every step of the LLOA journey and she’s as passionate as ever despite the challenges facing the industry right now thanks to the global Covid-19 pandemic. 

“This past year has been a time for people to re-evaluate what they value, and I think there’s been a healthy realisation of the importance of connection, the importance of nature and the importance of spending time with people you care about.”

Each of the lodges has its own point of difference, and all have a healthy focus on ‘purpose and positive impact’ in line with the collective’s Business With Purpose charter.

“We are more than just places to stay,” Rafferty told me. “We had a core purpose when we started and it was, you know, Australia is a long-haul destination so it always had challenges with regard to time, distance and costs associated. 

“The reason for us getting together was driven by a core purpose aimed at shifting perceptions of Australia to make people realise we had a critical mass of high-end experiential travel opportunities for those wanting to connect with the sheer diversity and quality of location and experience in Australia,” she said.

sustainable luxury lodge overlooking Wolgan Valley
Credit: Luxury Lodges of Australia / One&Only Wolgan

The approach worked and a little over a decade later flagship properties like One&Only Wolgan Valley, Longitude131 at Uluru, Saffire in Tasmania and Lake House in Victoria’s Daylesford region have continued to thrive. 

Upon opening in 2009 the former, located in the Blue Mountains region of NSW, had its sights set on being one of the first CarboNZero resorts in the world. It achieved that status a year later and has maintained it since. 

According to its charter and as Rafferty detailed, increasingly the typical guest of sustainable luxury lodges is interested in and wants to be aware of not just operational best practices related to sustainability of the site they’re visiting, these conscious travellers also want to know that their visit is in some way assisting the environmental preservation and regeneration of the region as well as the enrichment and wellbeing of local communities and cultures.

sustainable luxury lodge attracts the local wildlife
Credit: Luxury Lodges of Australia / One&Only Wolgan

“Each property proactively connects its guests with whatever the essence of experience that particular region offers… in Wolgan Valley’s case, land and wildlife conservation and regeneration, particularly post bushfires is central to the experience of a place. Add to that the focus on partnering locally, at one stage the team had more than 300 local food, beverage and other suppliers from the local region. The economic impact of that is significant.”

Aside from the local produce, Wolgan Valley is renowned for its wombat ‘WomSat’ tracking and conservation preservation program and like its LLOA counterparts has an operational focus that includes revegetation, water conservation, recycling and waste minimisation, sustainable food and purchasing procedures.

Others honour cultures, celebrate and educate guests about the delicate ecosystems they are travelling in, like our reef systems, and acknowledge and respect the traditional owners of the land. 

Pretty Beach House on the NSW Central Coast is dedicated to honouring the Aboriginal cultural heritage of the site and involves elders in the overall guest experience, educating visitors on the more than 100 significant Indigenous sites within the neighbouring Bouddi National Park and allowing them an opportunity to interact with the local language group. 

preserving Aboriginal heritage
Credit: Luxury Lodges of Australia / Pretty Beach House

In addition the onsite dining menu features native ingredients such as pepper berries, finger limes, lemon myrtle, wattle seed and Davidson plum, as well as local bush tucker growing naturally on and around the property.

For Rafferty, despite being ingrained in the sustainable tourism laneway by way of her work and passion, she told me she and her family try to live a very self-sufficient life and grow most of their own food.

“We’re pretty low impact,” she said. “I’ve always been a traveller but more of an off the beaten track traveller.”

Hopefully Rafferty, who also holds the position of Head of Sustainability for Tourism Australia, will be back adventuring on her own terms soon, in the meantime she’s encouraging Aussies to do their bit for domestic tourism and enjoy an experiential staycation at their nearest sustainable Luxury Lodges of Australia property.

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