Tourism role recognised
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.
Queenstown man Ron Nind at home in Kelvin Heights.