Like many people in the industry, van Vorsselen “kind of fell into hotels a little bit by accident” albeit, for him, it was straight out of high school. Needing a job, he first worked in a hotel in his small hometown of Tūrangi, near Lake Taupō on New Zealand’s North Island.
“After a year of working in this hotel, I discovered that I really had a great passion for it and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of talent, so I was then offered a management traineeship, which I did and it took me all over New Zealand,” he says.
His career in hotels – first in food and beverage, then rooms, then general management – has taken him around the world, including to Namibia, when it was a diplomatic hotspot in the early 1990s, and to London, New York, Boston, Hong Kong, China, and back home to New Zealand. He managed the property that became The Langham, Auckland – now Cordis, Auckland – both before and during its time as a Langham branded hotel. He was based in China, working for Langham Hospitality Group, in the years leading up to the pandemic, leaving for a pre-arranged move to Melbourne just as the pandemic began to take hold.
“I managed to leave before the lockdowns happened – the international lockdown anyway. It was right on the cusp; it was very fluid. I was lucky to get out, I think,” he says.
“I was a bit delayed [moving to Melbourne] with what was happening in China at the time, but in the end, it was a point where I really had to go, otherwise I risked either being locked in China or locked out of Australia.”
At The Langham, Melbourne since February 2020 and with a role overseeing the wider Pacific region, van Vorsselen has been with Langham Hospitality Group for nearly two decades now.
One of the major draws of the brand’s Melbourne property is its location, he believes.
Built in the early 1990s as part of the area’s transformation from a mostly industrial area, the property was originally a Sheraton before becoming a Langham in 2005. The hotel sits in a prime position on Melbourne’s Southbank, right at the Evan Walker pedestrian bridge over the Yarra River, providing direct access into the heart of Melbourne’s CBD, while being located between Melbourne’s art precinct and the convention centre, which sits further along the same riverbank.
The Langham, Melbourne “has the best location of any hotel in Melbourne” says van Vorsselen.
“You can easily walk to the National Gallery of Victoria, you can go to the ballet, you can go to the opera, you can easily walk to the Australian Open, to the MCG and we’re just across the river from the city [and] close to the convention centre. In my mind, it really is the centre of the city. And what we’re finding is that as Melbourne has reopened and the CBD has been slowish to fill, the Southbank side [has] bounced back quicker.”
With an old-school luxury air and a grand, cascading-fountains entrance to match, The Langham, Melbourne has over 1,100m2 of event space across 11 rooms, alongside 388 hotel keys. The hotel does primarily domestic corporate meetings and events business from small to large conferences – the ballroom can host 300 in theatre and 240 in banquet – as well as hosted client events and some sizeable room-only group stays. The sweet spot for residential conferencing is 100 to 120 pax, but with the number of event spaces on offer, it’s not unusual for the hotel to be hosting several smaller meetings at once.
During the pandemic, Melbourne has seen a huge influx of new hotel room inventory, with some notable brands joining The Langham at the luxury end of the spectrum. But van Vorsselen believes this places the city and all of its accommodation offerings in good stead for the future, even as international visitation has been sluggish to return post-pandemic.
“That means that the capacity for the city has increased and I think overall that makes it more attractive. The city can hold larger events.”
The Langham, Melbourne and Langham Hospitality Group in the wider region have big plans.
“We now have some really great projects ahead of us,” says van Vorsselen.
In Melbourne, “we’re in the process now of working on a couple of projects,” he says. “One would see us look to enlarge our existing ballroom and [undertake] renovation of our guest rooms and suites”.
He says they’re looking at making the ballroom around 20 per cent bigger.
Having debuted two major developments locally during the pandemic – the enlargement of Cordis, Auckland with the addition of the Pinnacle Tower and the opening of The Langham, Gold Coast – there are exciting plans ahead for Langham Hospitality Group in the region.
“One of the things we’re quite focussed on now is to try and increase our footprint of hotels in the Pacific,” says van Vorsselen.
With brands in the portfolio including The Langham, Cordis and Eaton, van Vorsselen says the hotel group sees opportunity in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown. Adelaide and Queenstown are earmarked for Langham branded properties if the right project can be found, while the other brands are on the table for Melbourne and Sydney, with The Langham already present in both of Australia’s largest cities.
“We are having discussions at different degrees in some of those cities,” says van Vorsselen, stressing that “nothing’s signed”.
“Projects always come up – some of them don’t eventuate, some of them do. There’s activity,” he says.
“We would love to be announcing something soon.”