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Q&A Graham Turner, CEO Spicers Group

Raised on an apple orchard near the Queensland town of Stanthorpe, Graham Turner's early career as a vet was short lived after moving to London, when he and a mate bought an old bus and began operating budget double-decker tours of Europe, North Africa and Asia in the 1970s.

Their A$1300 investment (in today's money) proved astute as the Top Deck Travel company quickly grew from one bus to 80 by the early 1980s. On his return to Australia that same decade Turner and his partners sold the business to management to concentrate on small band of Flight Centre travel shops. As its CEO and Managing Director the publicly-listed company Flight Centre Limited has grown from 30 to more than 2,000 stores and 12,000 employees in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, the UK, the USA, Hong Kong, China, India, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

The keen mountain biker and marathon runner now has his sights on the pointy end of the travel market with his new family-owned Spicers brand of luxury retreats, hotels and lodges.

What inspired you to create the Spicers Group of Retreats, Hotels and Lodges?
As (my wife) Jude and I were brought up in the country we wanted to create an experience that you can only get in the country but with exceptional restaurants and unique luxury accommodation with country/ farm /nature experiences thrown in.
What is the single best/defining thing about Spicers Retreats, Hotels and Lodges?
Each one is quite similar in that we have very high quality food and accommodation. Each one however, is very different in the look and feel, the restaurant and food style, the type of experiences available and the locations.
Each property is designed to suit its particular location. For example, Spicers Tamarind is located near a rainforest in Maleny (Queensland) and there is a hint of Thai throughout the property from the furnishings and especially in the restaurant - The Tamarind. Chef Paul Blain also runs Thai Cooking Schools and our day spa business - Spa Anise, signature treatment at Spicers Tamarind is a lemongrass massage.

Graham Turner

                                

In contrast, Spicers Hidden Vale near Grandchester is set amongst our working cattle farm. The food in the restaurant has a modern Australian feel with an emphasis on beef and regional produce. Activities at Spicers Hidden Vale include horseriding, clay pigeon shooting and an animal nursery for the kids. And our Spa Anise day spa's signature treatment at Hidden Vale is a "Salt of the Earth' salt body scrub.

Our other five properties are similarly designed with their own special peculiarities, but all possess a level of quality in the food, wine, comforts and furnishings and of course a focus on personalised service.

What is the next big luxury travel trend?
I believe it is about unique experiences and locations and also being small and exclusive. Also back to nature. In touring, it is small group journeys. In retreats this will, I hope, translate to the unique flavour and intimate experiences of our seven very different Spicers hotels and restaurants.
What is your own personal litmus test for whether a hotel is worthy of the luxury tag?
A very good bed and a room that is well appointed and comfortable but not over the top. Great food and wine, the location and experience, exceptional friendly service and if possible an active 'back to nature' feel with good exercise opportunities.
Apart from your own, what are your favourite hotels/resorts (and why)?
Near Reims, a lodge at Courcelles; in Spain near Leon a Frank Gehry-designed hotel; and in Australia, as a family we love Hayman Island.
balfour rooftop bar
Spicers Balfour Hotel rooftop bar
spicers tamarind retreat
Spicers Tamarind Retreat
What is your favourite city to visit?
London probably. My wife and I spend quite a lot of time there because of our Flight Centre interests but our love of London stems from the fact we both lived there for a number of years during the 1970s. We're therefore very comfortable there and know it well. New York is also an exciting city for us but very different to London [in terms of] the people, the restaurants, Central Park (as opposed to Hyde Park) and the fact that it's on an island.
What is your best overseas/local restaurant experience?
In London, where we travel often and eat out a fair bit. A few excellent Knightsbridge ones are Zuma (Japanese), Patara (Thai) and The Enterprise Pub. In Brisbane there are many but Ecco and Beccofino are very good and in Noosa - Ricky's, Berardos and Sails.
We also love Harvest at Coolum.
What is your favourite airline for business or first class? Why?
We have generally flown to London and New York on British Airways and Qantas which are good. But Air New Zealand, Etihad and Emirates also have a great product.
What three things do you never travel without?
Running gear, my Notebook and a good novel.
 
spicers hidden vale
Spicers Hidden Vale
What is the one luxury travel experience you will never forget?
A few years ago we went with our kids to Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls Hotel and Matetsi Water Lodge. We boogie boarded down the Zambezi and the wildlife at Matetsi was spectacular.
What is the most important thing (travel-wise) money CAN buy?
A good seat (preferably lie flat). Business class flat beds to Europe are now cheaper than economy seats were just 15 years ago in today's buying power. They are great value and make a huge difference to you on long distance travel.
What is the most important thing it can't?
The attitude you have in different countries and cultures and environments. Even some of the least comfortable cities, for example Delhi, can be a great cultural experience.
 

TURNER's Choices

Hayman Island
New York
London
Zuma
Patara
The Enterprise Pub
British Airways
Qantas
Air New Zealand
Etihad
Emirates
Victoria Falls Hotel
Matetsi Water Lodge
Posted 3/6/11
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