From a rainy arrival to a bold vision for extraordinary Tasmanian accommodation.
From beginnings as Tasmanian uni students, George and Vivian Luo have realised their dream of creating exceptional accommodation experiences including Villa Talia in the Huon Valley and new East Coast and Bruny Island ventures imminent.
When George and Vivian Luo arrived in Tasmania, they knew a handful of English words. It was 2005. Hailing from Shanghai, the couple stood with ten suitcases at the Hobart airport. After their driver didn’t show, they resorted to a taxi. Both were due to begin degrees in accounting and finance at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) – a degree they had already completed in their home country.
“We arrived at the University Centre well after dark with all facilities closed. I didn’t even know how to say accommodation,” said George. A cold night loomed ahead when a complete stranger emerged through the dark, “she demonstrated absolute kindness and waited for us until we were transported to Accommodation Services.”
When the couple eventually reached UTAS accommodation, they were advised that no booking had been made by their agent. Besides this, they were advised there was no room available for them. By this time, they were seriously questioning their decision of coming to Tasmania.
“Then, yet another happy encounter,” smiles George. “Paddy, the director of accommodation, arrived and realised the language issue at stake, as well as the need for accommodation and food.”
Paddy found the young couple accommodation for the night and would become an integral part of their lives. When George and Vivian completed their degree, the university offered both a scholarship to complete their Masters of Computing. During this time, George worked many jobs.
“My Dad stopped supporting me at 18,” explains George. “He said it was time to support ourselves. So, I worked about seven jobs per semester. As a night shift taxi driver which was frightening at times, dish-pig at a restaurant, cleaner at Coles, and on farms packing cherries, among other jobs.”
Upon graduation, George worked with UTAS Accommodation Services for many years. Though Paddy is now retired, the trio remain close friends, George describing him as their adopted Australian father.
After a decade working with the university and with two young children, in 2010 the couple began exploring their tourism accommodation dream. Though initial thoughts were to find a property near Cradle Mountain, on Tasmania’s east coast or Bruny Island, it was the Huon Valley that took their interest, almost by accident.
“We took a trip down the Huon Valley to enjoy some of Masaaki’s sushi in Geeveston,” says George. “But he was closed for renovations and we ended up at the Old Bank, a beautiful café. The owner talked to us for half an hour about the building’s history, the town, the people. It felt so homely and she just radiated energy and enthusiasm. We were taken by the friendliness of the area and this conversation led to exploring property in the valley, and when we inspected Villa Talia, I knew by Viv squeezing my hand that it was the perfect place.”
The Luo’s set about adding their personal touches and preparing the property for visitors. Villa Talia is a gracious home with wrap-around veranda, built in 2007 to the same proportions of an 1800s winery house in Victoria. Located just 600 metres from the Huon River banks with sweeping views to the Hartz Mountains and beyond, the luxe three-bedroom property has since been named one of Australian Traveller Magazine’s 100 Great Australian Holiday Homes.
It wouldn’t be until late 2019 that the villa was open to guests. Since then, more than 1800 have come through its doors including film makers, celebrity chefs, musicians, artists and more. Most months, the villa has been heavily booked. Those who stay can opt to have an in-house chef, yoga practitioner or even a boat charter organised at the time of booking. Some guests choose to arrive by helicopter and very few miss the opportunity to sink into the deep outdoor bath made from a single piece of volcanic rock.
“It’s such a pleasure to hear how much people love staying at Villa Talia,” smiles George. “We also enjoy working closely with other operators in the region such as Mathew Evans, the Gourmet Farmer. We have such supportive neighbours down here who all work together, collaborating to showcase the best of the region and help one another out.”
With Villa Talia at capacity, the Luo’s are now busy developing more extraordinary accommodation experiences in unique Tasmanian settings; a modern waterfront beach house on Tasmania’s East Coast and ‘Bubble House’ on Bruny Island.
“It’s amazing to think that our Tasmanian journey was sparked by a little photograph of Ross, a country town I found online. It was of the town centre, covered in golden autumn leaves with a white-haired old couple hand in hand taking a stroll. I showed Viv and said I wanted us to be like them one day. We followed through from that moment together in Shanghai staring at the photo – the first place we visited was Ross! It will always have a place in our hearts.”
When the family are not busy with school and business, one of their choice escapes is up to Mount Field National Park to the top lake when it’s covered in snow. Other favourites include Bruny Island, countless trips to Ross and a lesser-known North West property known as Robin Hood’s Well Farm Stay where the owners, Michael and Stacey, ensure a relaxed stay.
“We have experienced and shared so many sunshine moments in Tasmania that we want the same for others through our accommodation. I want to give people the biggest welcome to our beautiful island,” concludes George, flashing a broad smile. It’s a bright finish to a story that began on a lonely, dark Tasmanian night in the rain.
Are you interested in making a move? Make it Tasmania.
Find out more about Villa Talia.
For information on starting a business in Tasmania look through our stories or visit Business Tasmania.