Tourism role recog­nised

Central Otago Mirror - - FRONT PAGE -

DEB­BIE JAMIESON

Barry Thomas re­mem­bers ar­riv­ing in Queen­stown in 1969. Cars were driv­ing down the Mall and the Sky­line gon­dola was a very small op­er­a­tion.

By the time he had spent 33 years as chair­man of Sky­line, it had be­come one of New Zealand’s most suc­cess­ful tourism busi­nesses with a mar­ket cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion of $780 mil­lion and more than 1000 full time em­ploy­ees.

His role as a busi­ness­man and cham­pion of the New Zealand tourism in­dus­try has been recog­nised, with Thomas be­ing made a Com­pan­ion of the New Zealand Or­der of Merit.

The 73-year-old said he was flat­tered to learn of the hon­our.

From In­ver­cargill orig­i­nally, Thomas trained as a char­tered ac­coun­tant at Otago Univer­sity be­fore mov­ing to Queen­stown and a po­si­tion con­trol­ling the fi­nances and ad­min­is­tra­tion of Sky­line.

He was ap­pointed to the board in 1975 and soon af­ter, be­came chair­man.

Over time the team hit on a suc­cess­ful for­mula, he said: luge, chair­lift and scenic views.

High­lights in­cluded open­ing the first luge in Ro­torua and ex­pand­ing over­seas. Sin­ga­pore was the first in­ter­na­tional op­er­a­tion. Canada and South Ko­rea fol­lowed.

Un­der his lead­er­ship Sky­line di­ver­si­fied into sev­eral other in­dus­tries, in­clud­ing open­ing New Zealand’s first casino, in Christchurch, in 1994. Queen­stown fol­lowed a few years later, de­spite lo­cal op­po­si­tion.

‘‘To my ab­so­lute amaze­ment they granted two li­cences in Queen­stown,’’ said Thomas. ‘‘It was semi-ridicu­lous quite frankly.’’

In 2004 Sky­line pur­chased eight prime com­mer­cial prop­er­ties in Queen­stown, at a high pro­file public auc­tion, for about $60 mil­lion, in­clud­ing the flag­ship Eichardt’s Build­ing and O’Con­nell’s Shop­ping Cen­tre. Most of the build­ings had since been re­de­vel­oped or would be, he said.

They had proved a wor­thy in­vest­ment, Thomas said.

How­ever, not every­thing went to plan and one project he was unable to bring to life with part­ners Ngai Tahu was a pro­posed $100 mil­lion gon­dola from Mil­ford Road, in Fiord­land, to the Caples Val­ley, near Glenorchy.

‘‘It was one of my big­gest dis­ap­point­ments quite frankly. It would have worked beau­ti­fully.’’

Other po­si­tions have in­cluded: found­ing chair­man of the Queen­stown Air­port Cor­po­ra­tion, board mem­ber of Christchurch In­ter­na­tional Air­port, board mem­ber at the New Zealand Rugby Union Board, and found­ing the Moun­tain Scene news­pa­per.

DEB­BIE JAMIESON

Queen­stown man Ron Nind at home in Kelvin Heights.

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