Regional hotels prepare for bumper Christmas as city hotels struggleTrent Fraser: regional hotel occupancies are rising. Photo: Jesse Marlow

Regional hotels prepare for bumper Christmas as city hotels struggle

The latest figures from analysts STR show that regional hotels have recovered three-quarters of the market they lost when the pandemic struck in March, while capital city hotels are still struggling.

“We’re expecting this December that our portfolio will perform better than December last year,” said Trent Fraser, CEO of Choice, one of the country’s largest hotel franchise groups with brands like Quality, Econo Lodge, Ascend and Comfort.

“It’s being driven by our regional portfolio – our portfolio is skewed to the regions,” Mr Fraser said.

In the capital cities, where hotels are more heavily reliant on business travellers, major events and conferences – all of which have yet to make a significant comeback – the pace of recovery has been a lot slower.

According to STR, Sydney hotels were less than 40 per cent full in October while in Melbourne, which has just emerged from a crippling second lockdown, hotels were just over a quarter full.

“The broader trend we are seeing is a two-speed recovery. It’s clear the regions are outperforming cities at the moment,” Mr Fraser said.

“Over the last four months – July to October – our metro properties have traded at an average occupancy rate of 35 per cent while our regional properties have had occupancy rates of more than 50 per cent over the same time.”

Across Choice’s portfolio, regional destinations showing strong demand include Dubbo, Mudgee and Newcastle in NSW, Horsham, Benalla, Seymour and Wangaratta in Victoria, Warwick, Rockhampton and Hervey Bay in Queensland, Port Augusta, Victor Harbour and Barmera in SA and Busselton, Esperance, Karratha, Albany and Bunbury in WA.

In Tasmania, Launceston is performing strongly as well.

Duncan McLaren, general manager at the Econo Lodge hotel in Wodonga said his rooms were fully booked for Sunday (November 22) ahead of the NSW-Victoria border restrictions easing on Monday.

“Half of our reservations are from NSW, which is fantastic for our area,” Mr McLaren said.

“Christmas is looking pretty positive; it’s picking up quite nicely.”

“It’s all about reopening up to tourism. Having the region open up is really important.”

In WA’s Albany region, Quality Apartments Banksia Gardens had a record-breaking month with occupancy rates at 98 per cent for the month of October.

The Ascend Terminus Apartments in Newcastle and Comfort Inn Aden Mudgee had a healthy uptake in room bookings during October with occupancy rates sitting at 96 and 91 per cent respectively.

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