May 01, 2011


David Ellis

IT'S not every day you check into a big-name resort and find that the lady at the Front Desk is a Director.

Or when you go for a well-earned drink in the bar, you're served by a Director there too – and when its time for dinner the lady who takes your order and delivers your meal is a Director as well.

And even when you call it a day, yes, the ladies who made-up your room are all Directors also.

But such is the case at the Mercure Centro Hotel at Port Macquarie on the NSW Mid North Coast, although they're not executive directors and they don't sit on the board.

But those who welcome you on arrival wear name badges proudly informing you that rather than the bland title Receptionist, they're all in fact Directors of First Impressions.

Restaurant and bar staff, on the other hand, are all Directors of Lasting Impressions, while the housekeepers all boast of being Directors of Immaculate Impressions.

The "Directorships" idea came from a brainstorming session of owners, General Manager Ann-Maree Crowe, and staff early in the hotel's life, when it was clear that with the staff's enthusiasm, it was only fitting to reward them with a level of recognition beyond that of other hotels.

And while Ann-Maree didn't get a "Directors" title hersefl, if she had, it would surely have had to be Director of Ultimate Impressions.

On a recent night we met-up with friends in the bar, the barman – sorry, Director of Lasting Impressions – noticed we had several bottles of wine with us, and even though we'd not bought them at the hotel and he knew we were  taking them elsewhere for dinner, he immediately offered to "put them in the cool room to stay cold for you."

The Mercure Centro Hotel, one quickly realises, is not your average country hotel. Owned by a trio of local couples, and as Ann-Maree puts it "still just 3.5 years young," it's on the cusp of the CBD of this popular coastal holiday town. Walk a minute or so one way and you are in the midst of the city's shopping and restaurant action, drive a couple of minutes the other way, and you're on the sands of the beach.

The Australian Ironman Competition will be staged on that beach on May 1 and already staff are looking forward to welcoming one particular entrant who'll be staying with them: John McLean is a paraplegic after being hit by a car while cycling in training for another ironman event, the first wheelchair athlete to complete the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon, first wheelchair athlete to swim the English Channel, he represented Australia in the Sydney and Beijing Olympics and Paralympics, and has sailed in the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race.

And since 1998 his John Maclean Foundation has inspired and motivated young under-18 wheelchair Australians "to chase their dreams and live life to the fullest."

Ann-Maree Crowe says sixty per cent of the Mercure Centro Hotel's guests are holidaymakers, but there's a growing conference and wedding reception business catering for up to 140 guests. "One recent reception involved a bride who came from South Africa arriving from the church in a traditional white wedding dress, and then changing into a South African tribal outfit and dancing the night away to the music of bongo drums!" Ann-Maree says.

And wooing guests with his culinary skills is talented Chef Ben Crompton. From the near-two dozen items on his current dinner menu you could start with oysters in limoncello and parsley granita, or maybe choose slow-cooked pork belly with seared scallops, crisp shallots and nahm jim, for mains Gippsland beef tender loin with duck pate ravioli, barramundi with fricassee of mussels, capsicum and celery, or perhaps charred lamb backstrap wrapped in Swiss chard with polenta…

And to finish, lemon and ouzo cake with caramelised figs and citrus syrup, or a platter of Australian cheeses, dried grapes, pear relish and lavosh.

It all reflects the vision of Ann-Maree and her fifty staff – and that's to be the best hotel in the State based on customer service.

(They've a current special throughout April: stay two nights from $149 per night and you'll receive free Continental Breakfast both mornings; details 1300 786 989 or




[] PORT Macquarie's Mercure Centro Hotel: CBD is one way, the beach the other.

[] SPA Suite – it's all a matter of (vast) impressions.

[] PORT's famous surfing beach: home to this year's Australian Ironman Competition on May 1.

[] HISTORIC circa 1879 lighthouse at Port Macquarie's Tacking Point


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