Resorts, luxury hotels anticipate post-coronavirus rush

Orpheus Island is booked out even before its reopening
Orpheus Island is booked out even before its reopening

Some of Australia’s wealthiest resort island and boutique hotel owners are anticipating a rush of new business as cashed-up Australians eschew traditional European holiday boltholes in Sardinia and Provence.

Instead of boarding private jets for Europe or Aspen to escape the Melbourne cold, wealthy Australians are settling for a holiday at home this winter.

Nor will Christmas be held at a luxe Balinese mansion retreat this year — more likely it will be celebrated at Port Douglas, or wine tasting at a boutique resort in the NSW Hunter Valley.

Agents and analysts predict international travel is unlikely to start returning to pre-COVID-19 levels until at least next year, sparking huge interest in exclusive Australian destinations that have been enjoyed by wealthy Americans for years.

Orpheus Island owner Chris Morris says his exclusive far north Queensland resort, which charges $1600 for a double per night, is already fully booked, even though it has not yet reopened.

“We are planning to open on July 10, when the Queensland government lifts the travel restrictions, but we are already totally booked out on Orpheus,” Morris says.

The cashed-up Computershare founder’s other resorts, Daintree Eco Lodge and the award-winning Mount Mulligan, are not faring too badly, either.

“We are getting inquiries from some very high-profile people,” Morris says. “We have the perfect isolation spots. I think (post-COVID-19) will be extremely good for us because those guests will talk to others and realise you don’t have to go overseas.”

Hamilton Island owner Sandy Oatley is also expecting a deluge of cashed-up Australians at his Whitsunday Island Resort, and says he is ready to open it within a week of flights returning.

“We are already getting lots of booking inquiries for (the luxury resort) qualia in particular and the Beach Club on Hamilton Island … for stays between September and Christmas,” Oatley says.

“But we don’t know when we can open, it’s a bit of a Catch 22 situation.”

Oatley, who was forced to stand down 850 staff due to the virus shutdown, says many of his employees are returning on June 1 and joining the 400 staff who remained on the island courtesy of the JobKeeper allowance.

“Once the airlines can fly in we will need a week, (but) we will be ready,” he says.

“We just want to pick up anyone having an Australian holiday with a world-class experience. That is what we have always aimed for, now it will be perfect.”

Oatley is putting his money where his mouth is and has booked a Hamilton Island retreat for his Christmas family holiday.

Reports that international travel may not fully return for several years, coupled with safety concerns about overseas flights and destinations, have inspired Jude Turner, wife of Flight Centre founder Graham Turner, to start marketing her nine Spicers Retreats in NSW and Queensland more intensively.

Turner is targeting a clientele who would normally travel overseas. “I believe they want everything packaged together, as they would do when booking overseas holidays — the experiences, the dining, different types of accommodation and movement between places,” Turner says.

These cashed-up Australians, many of whom are new to holidaying in their own country, don’t just want to book a hotel for three days. Rather, they want the choice of extras such as a helicopter or a private transfer between retreats.

“I know our ‘quality of experience’ is equal to overseas destinations as I’m told this by many overseas guests (recent Americans for example). And there’s so much space to breathe compared to Europe and no long flight to get there,” Turner says.

“In the past Australians seem to value an overseas destination above their own … now I’m hopeful they will see what they have in their own backyard.”

Turner says many travel agents are looking for product to sell to their clients who have had to cancel their big overseas adventures this year.

“We can provide an incredible walking experience (a new product) or a wine country escape or a culinary journey to match any found overseas, I know because I’ve done many myself,” she says.

Turner reckons Australians staying at her resorts, whether in the resort township of Maleny on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast or in the Blue Mountains or NSW Hunter Valley, will be pleasantly surprised “if they can just get over the bragging rights associated with ‘going overseas’.”

The Spicers’ all-inclusive retreats start at more than $1000 a night, but include dining and wine inclusions.

Meanwhile, Mulpha Australia chief executive Greg Shaw, who has just spent $150m renovating Queensland’s Hayman Island, is also expecting a surge of interest in his 170-room resort.

“We are getting reasonable levels of inquiry,” Shaw says. “It will continue to grow once the flight capacity returns. That is the key to opening up the borders.

“We are monitoring government directions. Like everyone we would be hoping to see domestic travel open up and we will open up soon after.

“Ultimately I think people will come out of this with a desire to see the best of Australia.”

This article originally appeared on