Hotels turn to cruise ships to fill vacant rooms amid coronavirus

Hoteliers are desperately seeking new ways to fill vacant hotel rooms.
Hoteliers are desperately seeking new ways to fill vacant hotel rooms.

Hoteliers are scrambling to fill vacant hotel rooms, with the InterContinental Hotel Group recently approaching the beleaguered Carnival-owned Princess Cruises to accommodate hundreds of its crew members.

Given the government-enforced travel restrictions due to COVID-19, big hotel operators can no longer rely on the leisure traveller market and are looking for options to fill vacant rooms through government work — such as accommodating returning international travellers for quarantine purposes, housing air cargo crews, medical personnel or cruise line staff.

Hotelier Jerry Schwartz, the largest private owner of properties in Australia, is attempting to keep some of his 15 hotels open during the COVID-19 crisis but he has temporarily shut his Crowne Plaza resort in the NSW Hunter Valley and the Paradise Resort on Queensland’s Gold Coast, as both properties are firmly skewed at the leisure traveller market.

“We have had some dealings with Princess Cruises.

“We think that would be an ideal place for the crew to isolate in the Hunter Valley, (but) we have not yet reached any conclusions,” Dr Schwartz told The Weekend Australian on Friday.

“Discussions are ongoing.

“The 550-room Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley could be mobilised and reopened within a heartbeat to take groups,” he says.

Dr Schwartz says hotels built solely for leisure guests are the worst affected by COVID-19 because of the total government ban on travel.

He says the business, corporate and convention centre business had also completely dried up.

But his city properties, such as the Sofitel Darling Harbour, could at least attract airline cargo crew and medical personnel, he says.

IHG confirmed there were no cruise customers booked in any of its hotels in Australia, but an IHG spokesman added: “We would consider any suitable business that was appropriate for the specific property. Our commercial team is out there looking for ­business.”

The IHG spokesman said the main priority was to keep staff employed. “If we can keep our great hotels open and keep people employed throughout the crisis, our commercial team will keep looking for relevant business and other government business opportunities. Our biggest focus is to keep staff employed.”

The British-backed IHG has temporarily closed about 23 hotels in Australasia, including Hayman Island, while rival operator the French-owned Accor has shut 60 properties.

All up more than 40 hotels have temporarily closed in metropolitan Sydney, including the popular Grace Hotel in the heart of the CBD.

Most properties in the NSW Blue Mountains and Hunter Valley have also shut down. The Emirates-owned Wolgan Valley resort near Lithgow has also temporarily closed.

But the InterContinental Sydney Double Bay is trading normally, and in the Blue Mountains Dr Schwartz is keeping his luxury Fairmont Resort open for business. It currently has just two guests — doctors from the nearby Blue Mountain Hospital in Katoomba.

Tourism Accommodation Australia NSW chief executive Michael Johnson says 300 hotels in Australia have closed in the past three weeks. “That’s despite the best efforts of the industry to stay afloat with the assistance of TAA and governments,” he said.

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