Billionaires build on Byron Bay resort appeal

An overhead view of the $100 million Elements of Byron Bay.
An overhead view of the $100 million Elements of Byron Bay.

Byron Bay, the hippie retreat turned billionaires’ playground on the NSW north coast, has become the place where Australia’s wealthiest are heading to open luxury resorts of their own.

Brian Flannery, who is worth $1.3 billion and made his fortune in coal, has opened the $100 million Elements of Byron Bay with his wife, Peggy.

They join retail magnates Gerry Harvey and Katie Page, who own the well-established Byron at Byron, and former real estate publishing mogul Antony Catalano, who bought and has recently renovated boutique hotel Raes on Wategos.

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“I originally thought I was going to build my retirement house here,” Flannery says.

“Brian and I were told about a block of land that was for sale after the GFC hit. We came down from Brisbane, I jumped out of the car and it was such a beautiful spot, I said to Brian, let’s buy it! I didn’t even know it was zoned tourism. So that was a bit of a shock.’’

An overhead view of the $100 million Elements of Byron Bay.

With no experience in hotel management, the couple have spent more than $100m building the 203-villa resort. They forked out another $4m building the first solar-­powered heritage diesel train to take their guests into town. “Byron has always had a certain spirituality,” Ms Flannery said of her reason for buying the property pretty much on the spot.

“You can go to a million other places but you can never get the same feeling you do when you come to Byron.”

That feeling is shared by millions of others, with tourist figures showing there were 2.1 million visitors to the seaside hamlet in the year ending June 2017. Those visitors spent $722 million. And according to the local tourism industry association, Destination Byron, the luxury market is increasing in resorts and boutique hotels as well as holiday rentals through Airbnb.

“It’s the beautiful beaches, the environment and the hinterland,” Destination Byron president Peter Wotton says of the town’s enormous appeal. “We also have highly intelligent people who have made the decision to come to Byron to rejuvenate or retire.”

Peggy Flannery, one of the owners of the $100 million Elements of Byron Bay retreat in Byron Bay, NSW.

Wotton says the town has also been a haven for entertainers such as Paul Hogan and Chris Hemsworth, who is building a multi-million-dollar mansion in the Byron hinterland.

The huge increase in tourism is not without controversy among locals, especially when it comes to Airbnb. The council recently introduced measures that mean owners will have to seek permission to rent out their homes or face thousands of dollars in fines.

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