Three Minute Squiz With… Kerri-Ann Charlton

Kerri-Ann Charlton might just have the best job in the world. Together with her husband Sam, she is the owner/operator of beautiful Bedarra Island – an island resort jewel in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef tourism crown. Kerri-Ann and Sam took over Bedarra after it had been smashed by Cyclone Yasi in 2011. Hard work, passion and a genuine desire to share her little patch of paradise with the world have seen Kerri-Ann create one of the best, most exclusive island offerings on the reef. Please join us in welcoming her to the Three Minute Squiz.

How and where do you Squiz the news?
I usually wake up earlier than the rest of the household and have a quick squiz whilst drinking a lemon water (but really wanting a coffee).

When you came to Bedarra in the days immediately after Yasi, describe what you found..
Utter devastation – it had been Sam’s (my husband) dream to purchase Bedarra and I thought for sure that it would never be possible after sighting it. However, when I turned and looked at him he had a grin from ear to ear and said “Darl, this is going to be great.” It took me a little longer to believe…

So what in the name of extreme renovation were you thinking when you bought the place?
LOVE! It was our labour of love. It was a very special place for Sammy when he was younger and I could see how much it meant to him, so what do you do? It took us 18 months to get it ready for the opening in July 2013 and it was 18 months of literal blood, sweat and tears –  however, we’ve never looked back, it is magnificent and the natural beauty still astounds me.

What are the biggest challenges of running an island resort?
Logistics and finding the right team of staff are two that spring to mind. Being on an island with boats, helicopters and weather to consider can be a logistical nightmare unless you have the right staff and operational procedures in place.  Our staff enjoy the challenges this can bring and they are also integral to the guest experience.

And what are the greatest rewards?
When you have a guest hugging you and crying as they leave the island because they have enjoyed their stay so much… I get a bit teary even answering this because I feel so privileged that people choose to come and stay with us. For some people, it’s their once in a lifetime holiday and the fact that they have sacrificed, organised someone to look after their children and travelled to Bedarra makes me feel so grateful. To be able to make someone that happy is something I will never take for granted.

Bedarra has just 10 villas meaning there is a maximum of 20 guests on the island at any given time. What’s the thinking behind that from a business/tourism experience point of view?
We actually reduced the number of villas at Bedarra from 16 to 10 when we took over. This seems counterintuitive from a business perspective, however, we were adamant that we were to operate the resort sustainably – and the most sensible option was to reduce the population on the island to achieve this. While this ultimately reduces the potential revenue the business can generate, the guest experience is undoubtedly enhanced. The guests now share the island with fewer others, enhancing the feeling of privacy. They can also not hear the hum or smell the fumes of a diesel generator as we run primarily from solar power.  Our team of staff have fewer guests to look after which ensures our guests are better cared for and their stay is more personalised. All of this results in a better experience for our guests and hopefully, they will return to stay with us again!

As well as running a successful hospitality business – you’re also a mum to university and school-aged kids. What would you say they get out of island life?
It’s interesting because the children see it mainly as our place of work. I often suggest to our eldest daughter (who is at uni) that she should bring a few friends up to the island for a few days – she looks at me as if I have just professed my undying love for Donald Trump. Bedarra is an adults only resort, so the two younger ones look forward to the closed season as they have an amazing playground to explore and enjoy with their friends.

It’s something of a Bedarra tradition for all guests to gather for cocktail hour before dinner – why is that so important to the experience you offer?
Sam and I had the vision of our guests coming together for a few cocktails before going their separate ways for dinner – the friendships that have been made around the round table are phenomenal. People from all walks of life telling stories, asking questions and generally having a great time. It makes me happy when I hear the booming laughter that comes from that bar, it gives us a real sense of satisfaction that our ideas weren’t so silly after all.

If you could choose five people – living or dead – to make up your dream dinner party guest list, who would they be and why?
Sammy (because he’s funny and hot). My beautiful friend Anoushka (because she is the funniest female I know and can read me like a book). Charles Wooley (60 Minutes was my favourite show growing up and I was lucky enough to meet him not long ago and he didn’t disappoint – he has it all, his stories would keep us all entertained). Kerry Stokes (because I have so much admiration for him and would love to talk skiing). Bradley Cooper (to sing for us obviously).

We’ve asked this question plenty of times but never has it been more fitting: if you were sent to an island and could only take one album with you – your ‘desert island disc’ – what would it be?
Music is a great love but I’d definitely need a compilation so suit my different moods! Something to sing along to, to cry to and most importantly to dance to.

What would you say is the greatest quality in a friend?
Honesty – which can be tough because sometimes it’s not what you want to hear. Especially when you think it’s a good idea to open that second bottle of red on a school night…..

Working with your husband: what’s the secret?
Sam and I have very different management styles, however, we both know where each other’s strengths lie, so that helps. We have a lot of ‘discussions’ but usually seem to work through them. Listening is also key – hopefully, I’m getting better at it.

What would you say is currently the most overlooked news story Australians should know about but don’t?
There is a lot of news about climate change and how it is generally affecting the Great Barrier Reef, however, the biggest damage to the Great Barrier Reef is actually being caused by run-off into the rivers that are within the GBR catchment. This is very much a human-caused problem and should be the easiest to stop as the science cannot be disagreed with whether you are a climate change zealot, a denier or somewhere in between.

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