October 29, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio | Image above: Geoff York

As the corporate meeting and incentive market starts to return, there’s one hotel group that is particularly delighted to reopen. Indeed for Crystalbrook Collection it will be like a new beginning.

It’s just four years since its founding directors sat in a room with nothing more than a name and a committed investor. Since then, Crystalbrook has opened seven properties – all unique, all high-end and all trying to lessen the ecological footprint while still delivering exquisite experiences.

Crystalbrook Collection’s Chief Executive Officer Geoff York and his team feel a great sense of responsibility for the planet and it plays out every day in everything they do.

They’ve coined the phrase “responsible luxury” – a simple yet timely concept.

For the past two years it’s been a case of “opening and shutting” their hotels due to COVID-19 restrictions. Not ideal for a new brand.

But Crystalbrook Collection is well positioned to flourish as issues of climate change and sustainability become more urgent.

York spoke with Joyce DiMascio about his desire to make a difference.

York has been in hotels a long time including in senior roles with Accor and its Sofitel brand. He’s seen the emergence of Australia’s visitor economy over decades operating hotels of all types.

So, when invited to help build a new brand in Australia that wanted to stand apart from the rest, he was ready to contribute and ultimately lead. He took on the CEO role in February 2021 after being part of the founding team for several years.

At present there are seven properties and all have some meeting capacity. There are three properties in Cairns: Crystalbrook Riley, Crystalbrook Bailey and Crystalbrook Flynn; in Brisbane’s Howard Smith Wharves there is Crystalbrook Vincent, on the north coast of NSW there is Crystalbrook Byron, further south, Crystalbrook Newcastle and in inner-city Sydney, there is Crystalbrook Albion.

Crystalbrook Flynn in Cairns

The locations lend themselves to the corporate meetings and incentives market. The experience is pitched at those looking for luxury delivered with due regard for the environment and community.

York believes that coming out of COVID-19 more individuals and corporates will be thinking about environmental matters.

“It has caused us to reflect on the environment impact and individually question, what can I do?”

York is very aware that running a hotel group that lightens the load on the environment is a big brief. Refreshingly humble, he doesn’t for one moment think they have everything right. But they are trying to make a difference, he says.

Initially addressing the obvious low hanging fruit – like getting rid of plastics, minimising waste, recycling, reusing and having best-in-class energy efficient equipment and systems. They have also invested heavily in solar energy.

Food and beverage policies are also focussed on reducing food miles and sourcing local, fresh and seasonal produce wherever possible.

For clients who have Corporate Social Responsibility in their procurement policies, Crystalbrook Collection offers excellent options.

York said the company is now working towards becoming accredited with EarthCheck for third-party certification.

“We wanted to work with an independent entity that could both accredit us and also guide some of our thinking and actions,” he says.

“This is not about reducing costs – it’s about being best-in-class. We are not there yet but we are on the journey.”

Crystalbrook Byron on the NSW North Coast

From the guests’ perspective, York says they do not want to be “confronting” about the sustainability mission.

“It shouldn’t be confronting, but guests pick it up right from check-in. There are no plastic keys so the conversation starts at the front desk,” he says.

Apart from eliminating the use of plastic, the hotel group has also gone paperless, have bathroom amenities in “highly designed” pump packs instead of individual size containers and source 80 percent of produce from within a three-hour radius.

These are just a few of the considerations for the eco-responsible model they’ve adopted.

York is big on integrity and substance. He’s taken on the enormously exciting challenge of building the responsible luxury brand in Australia.

He’s also focussed on expanding the portfolio. Owner Ghassan Aboud is hugely invested in Australia and in both owning and operating the portfolio.

“By owning everything in our collection, we are controllers of our own destiny.”

York says the goal is to build the meetings and corporate business to about 25 percent of revenue.

He’s particularly excited about the re-emergence of Cairns as a meetings destination. Across the three properties, Crystalbrook Collection has 870 rooms – well positioned to work with Cairns Convention Centre as well as the convention bureau, Business Events Cairns & Great Barrier Reef.

“We’ll be progressively ramping up. Face-to-face meetings will come back over the course of the next year.”

He says the reopening of travel to Fiji and the protocols that visitors have to observe there will test what people are prepared to tolerate for the opportunity to be able to travel again.

While the horizon is not entirely clear for any operators anywhere, things are pointing upwards again.

Whether in Cairns, Brisbane, Byron Bay, Newcastle or Sydney, Crystalbrook Collection is poised to make a real difference just as everyone has had time to reflect more on what kind of future they want.

York’s message to the market is simple. It’s compelling. It’s timely, especially as the business events industry finds its feet again.

“If you want to support ‘best in practice’ environmental actions, come to us. You’ll be supporting an organisation that is focussed on this and also delivering responsible luxury.”

The newly opened Crystalbrook Vincent