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Leaning lodge 1
Dr Mathew Parackal with a selection of his top MART304 students and head of marketing Associate Professor Dr Kirsten Robertson.

A nearly 70-year-old notoriously skew-whiff simple backcountry Otago hut might not be the first-place people would think of when imagining a yoga retreat or a corporate team-building adventure venue.

Well, not yet, but thinking up ways to make care of the hut – which has recently been upgraded - sustainable into the future has provided an opportunity for a bunch of undergraduate marketing tauira from Otago University to produce an idea as bendy as its original floor.

The hut in discussion is the Leaning Lodge hut, high above Middlemarch in the Rock and Pillar Range about an hour west of Dunedin.

A Leaning Lodge has been precariously perched 1220 meters up since the 1950s - its name coming from its floor, which used to be on a lean.

The existing hut was closed in 2014 for safety reasons and a full replacement hut, with a straighter floor, was erected earlier this year after the Leaning Lodge Trust, which manage the rebuild on behalf of the Department of Conservation (DOC), raised over $250,000 for the work, says Dr Parackal.

Senior Marketing lecturer Mathew Parackal – who is also on the committee of the Trust – explains that his MART304 involves an industry partner; this year it was the Leaning Lodge Trust.

“The industry partner comes along and provides a problem, and the students then attempt to solve it.”

These sorts of “real-world” projects for non-profits and community organisations are a key feature of the marketing department’s offerings, Head of Department Associate Professor Kirsten Robertson adds.

“These projects support the community and give Otago marketing students a competitive edge.”

Dr Parackal says the problem presented to MART304 in 2023 was that typical DOC huts cost only about $5 a night to stay in.

The Trust did not want to increase the normal price and thus decrease accessibility, so has been on the hunt for ways to make enough money to maintain the building to the high standards needed to make it both safe and accessible in years to come.

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The old hut was a traditional bare bones affair, but the new hut is a DOC hut’s luxury cousin - boasting a beautiful deck, insulation, double glazing and ten bunks. Photo: Leaning Lodge Trust.

Several years ago, students in the 2020 and 2021 Marketing department’s digital marketing course established an online presence for the hut, and launched a fund-raising campaign on Give A Little, raising over $12,000 which started the ball rolling.

As the build neared completion, Dr Parackal saw an opportunity for the students in his MART304 paper.

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How do you get a hut to the top of a mountain you ask? Photo: Leaning Lodge Trust (background digitally extended).

The group of tauira were tasked with finding niche markets that were not so large it would make the hut too popular and impact the natural environment, but significant enough to provide cash flow.

“We needed students to uncover the hidden gems in the market, so that DOC could begin to promote the Leaning Lodge to these niche groups.”

The students came up with multiple ideas as part of the exercise, some of which were presented to the trust at a final meeting this May. One idea that was presented to the Trust was making the hut a yogism attraction.

Tiffany Horton, a fourth year tauira who is about to complete her BCom in Marketing Management and Entrepreneurship, and Sarah Martin a fourth year BSc and BCom tauira double majoring in Food Science and Marketing, came up with the idea of “Unplugged”, which the trustees loved.

John Cocks, a Chair of the leaning lodge trust, says that the Leaning Lodge seems like the perfect place for a yoga retreat.

“A simple refuge in a picturesque alpine setting.”

Tiffany explained that she and Sarah are both very involved in the yoga and wellness scene in Dunedin, and that they had identified a viable target market in that community.

Their proposal was to use Leaning Lodge as a wellness destination and retreat for individuals looking to maintain and improve their physical, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing.

The target audience would be Yoga and Pilates students who are well-educated, value sustainability and organic products and were willing and able to invest time and money in such pursuits.

“The Lodge would provide an immersive and transformative space for a retreat, which would happen infrequently enough to continue to allow the hut to be used for its original intended purpose - as a safe haven for hikers and bikers and citizen scientists.”

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Tiffany and Sarah propose ‘Unplugged’ a mid-week retreat at the Leaning Lodge hut for yogis seeking a spiritual experience.

Other ideas presented at the final meeting included a corporate retreat, a photography expedition for high school students and an ‘empty nesters’ holiday destination for people whose children have left home, all of which received warm feedback from the Trust.

Dr Parackal says that the ideas and research the students have done will now be fed back into a workshop the Trust is running to consider the future running of Leaning Lodge.

“Some of the ideas the students came up with could become the basis of projects going forwards to support Leaning Lodge.

“It was a fantastic project. A real-world project - the students did an amazing job, the Trust were really impressed.”

John Cocks says that the student presentations were inspiring.

“[They were] delivered with infectious enthusiasm, identifying new opportunities, and underpinned with convincing research results…The trust is fortunate in being part of this dynamic marketing course – we’re impressed by the students’ skills and now have a wealth of opportunities for Leaning Lodge and its success as a community asset.”

Dr Robertson thanked the Leaning Lodge trustees for coming to five of MART304’s tutorials in support of this endeavour and listening to 26 presentations about 20 different possible niche markets.

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