Australia’s biggest hotel operator Accor trumpeted the first signs of a tourism revival as NSW and Victorian residents prepare to go on holiday for the first time in months.
Chief operating officer Simon McGrath said the group, which runs a network of 380 hotels from budget to luxury, was finally starting to see new bookings exceed cancellations, meaning record-low occupancy levels could start to rise.
Mr McGrath told a Tourism Australia webinar he was “very optimistic about tourism over the next six to 12 months”.
“One of our main booking platforms would usually (pre-pandemic) bring in about $1.6 million in bookings a day. That got back down to $100,000, but this week it went up to $400,000 to $500,000 a day,” he said.
“We are now getting more bookings than cancellations. There’s a high level of interest in Queensland, in particular, Noosa [on the Sunshine Coast].
“There has been a heavy focus on leisure, People are desperate to get away for a three-day break,”
Accor, whose brands include Ibis, Novotel, Mantra, Peppers, Sofitel and Pullman, has been among the groups hardest hit by the ban on travel, with occupancy rates in the single digits across many of its hotels.
Around 70 Accor hotels closed during the pandemic while the group has also stopped paying the majority of rent on serviced apartments that it leases from private investors.
The latest figures from analysts STR found hotel revenue had plunged 80 per cent on the east coast over April, with Sydney showing the biggest decline.
Mr McGrath said his optimism was based not just on people’s pent up desire to travel, but due to Australia’s success at containing the spread of COVID-19.
This he said would not only encourage visitors back to Australia – when international travel resumed – but also ensure overseas investment continued to flow into the sector.
“What you will see is that the world has recognised that Australia can manage its medical and health issues very well,” he said.
“Our healthy environment combined with a strong economy will bring more investment into this region. Lots of countries have been knocked off the investment list.
“But similarly to 2008 [after the GFC] we see great investment coming into our sector from international investors,” Mr McGrath said.
“I’d rather be here than anywhere else in the world.”
Sean Hunt, Marriott International area vice-president for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, told The Australian Financial Review the group would be sizing its business in accordance with new occupancy numbers forecast for the balance of the year.
“Where we really see opportunity to counter the downturn is the lifting of intrastate travel firstly, followed by the opening of state and territory borders to allow interstate travel.
“And of course the potential of an Australia-New Zealand trans-Tasman travel bubble opening up is very positive.”
Leanne Harwood, managing director of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) for Australasia and Japan, said the operator of hotels including Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, was doing everything it could to emerge from this period in the strongest possible position.
“We’re seeing those signs of domestic travel returning in Australia – which is great because domestic is a hugely important part of IHG’s Australian business.
“We know that Aussies love to travel, so we expect that pent-up demand to result in some much-needed revenue for the hospitality industry – and we’ll be ready to welcome them with socially-distant, and therefore figurative, open arms.”
Mr McGrath said the tourism sector would “get people back faster than any other industry”.
“I’m a big supporter of the bubble. [With a combined population of 32 million people] we can make money out of that.
“We should be able to make money from domestic travel. International travel should only be the cream.”
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