The covid “pause” has given several Australian top hotels the breathing space to undertake major refurbishments and upgrades ready for the hoped-for onslaught of international travellers once borders re-open.
Luxury hotels in most capital cities have put in place extensive capital works programs, knowing they can minimise the disruption and noise for the few guests they have.
One of the biggest projects, the $100 million revamp of the InterContinental Sydney, took place over 18 months rather than the originally planned two years, and is now likely to finish towards the end of 2021, ready for a grand unveiling in early 2022.
“It’s an iconic hotel with a special place in Sydney, in a dress-circle location on the harbour, and covid has presented us with the perfect opportunity to undertake this work to our flagship property,” Greg Shaw, CEO of owners Mulpha Australia, said.
“Whilst covid has created some short-term challenges, we think the way Australia has performed throughout the pandemic means it will be seen as even more of an exceptional destination in the future.”
Built in 1851 as the NSW government’s Treasury to hold the riches unearthed by the gold rush, occupied by the premier as his office from 1900 and converted into a hotel in 1985, the InterContinental Sydney is classed a state significant development.
Architects Woods Bagot were careful to blend the additions and changes with the existing heritage elements in the dramatic renovation of the hotel’s renowned cortile – or indoor central courtyard – with a new bar. In addition, there’ll be a lounge and rooftop bar with stunning views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, a new restaurant and the refurbishment of the rooms.
They’re also making it more open for locals to enjoy by introducing more of the European tradition of visiting hotels for morning coffee, after-work drinks, meals and meetings.
Architect Tracey Wiles, who’s working on the project with colleague Ian Lomas, said: “In the cortile, you have a patchwork of history coming together, like the excitement of an urban city with buildings responding to each other, and what we do is respect the history and celebrate it by using traditional materials in a contemporary way.
“We’re using sandstone, as in the arches, in a more contemporary detailing with warm timber, but in a relaxed way to reflect the Australian lifestyle we’re encouraging people to come in, and welcoming them to use the hotel as their living room in the city as an extension of the streetscape.”
With the hotel overlooking the Royal Botanic Garden, there’ll also be greenery throughout the hotel to reflect the greenery outside.
Across town, the Hilton Sydney has just revealed the results of its $25 million renovation, having extensively redesigned and refurbished all 587 of its guest rooms, introducing two new room types, along with its corridors and renovation of its lobby and reconfiguration of its ground-floor Caffe Cino. It was overseen by the a+ design group.
“While we were making a bit of noise, there weren’t too many guests around to disturb,” said general manager Hayden Hughes. “When we finished, covid also enabled us to keep it under wraps for a while, so we could relaunch it in a safer period where everyone is looking for a great story and something to be excited about.”
One of its sister properties, the Parmelia Hilton Perth, has been transformed during the covid period. There’s been a $45 million investment in the introduction of touchless technology, the revitalisation of the lobby, 32 new rooms, a new lounge, the refurbishment of its restaurant and a new thoroughfare, connecting the lobby to the shopping and dining precinct Brookfield Place.
In Melbourne, there’s been movement in the lockdown. The Crowne Plaza Melbourne on the Yarra River has been the subject of a major refurbishment program, managed in stages, with the 432 rooms completed by the end of 2018, but the final works to the outdoor pool, conference facilities and lobby finished in late 2020. The hotel reopened on December 1.
It now has a set of new guest features like its “re-imagined” rooftop pool with cabanas, a 24-hour wellness centre, flexible workspaces and a “new modern” redesign throughout.
Michael Johnson, CEO of Tourism Accommodation Australia, says the covid period has given several hotels around the country the time for major works. “It’s depended on the hotels’ age and their cash reserves, but this has been a downtime to give them the chance to upgrade,” he said. “On a positive note, it does make them ready to go when travel reopens.”
Rydges Hotels and Resorts have also worked on several of its properties in the pandemic. Rydges Canberra has had a multimillion renovation of its lobby, reception, lounge, bar, restaurant, conference and function spaces, as well as guest rooms, by Plus Architecture.
There are now lounge seats around a pond and central fireplace in the public area and live forestry, including mature trees and a chef’s garden, at the property.
Covid has also completed the redevelopment of the Powerhouse Tamworth by Rydges, the only five-star hotel in NSW’s New England, and the opening of the new Rydges Gold Coast Airport, the only airport hotel on the Gold Coast.
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