MEET the five star hotel honcho's taking Gold Coast tourism to new heights.
These two blokes, both relative newcomers, have turned the city’s ailing tourism industry into a high occupancy bonanza.
Mantra Group CEO Bob East (left) and Hilton general manager David Kelly (right) are backed by iconic brands that identified, and are now reaping the rewards of launching on the Gold Coast.
Mantra Group’s popular Peppers brand opened in November after it announced a management rights deal with Niecon for its Oracle project in Broadbeach, while the $700 million Hilton Surfers Paradise Hotel & Residences opened on December 20.
Both hotels bustled and baubled their way into the Christmas to New Year period boasting 100 per cent occupancy, with many guests visiting the Gold Coast for the first time. While the Hilton is now running at 80 per cent, Peppers has only ‘a few’ apartments available.
“It’s been extremely positive and 80 to 85 per cent of our customers have come from the domestic market,” says Kelly, former GM at Hilton Cairns.
“We are seeing the continuation of the domestic trend. With us coming into the marketplace it has certainly brought new visitors to the Gold Coast and we are seeing a lot of existing Hilton customers who have stayed with us all around the world, including a loyal Japanese contingent. Hilton Surfers Paradise is up there with the very best in the world.”
Kelly says the first stage of the Hilton Surfers Paradise, the 32-level Boulevard Tower, will operate at average 80 per cent occupancy. The hotel employs 75 staff with that number increasing to more than 300 when the second tower is completed in October. Hilton Worldwide has backed its new baby in the heart of Surfers Paradise and used all of its marketing muscle and international promotional power to push the Gold Coast.
Kelly, who has managed hotels in Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns and New York, believes the Gold Coast has what it takes to rejoin the ranks as one of Australia’s top tourism destinations.
“Surfers Paradise has tremendous energy to it,” he says.
“I’m relatively new and finding out for myself and it’s an exciting place to be. Everyone has got right behind the Hilton - from Gold Coast City Council to Gold Coast Tourism and the key is to work as a group.
“We opened at a perfect time and have been able to capitalise on the numbers. With the brand we have been able to attract new customers that might have thought otherwise about coming here.
“The Gold Coast can be really proud of the fact that our domestic numbers are increasing and it (industry) will turn a corner.”
At Peppers Broadbeach, Mantra Group CEO Bob East is also on a roll and the decision to manage and rebrand 505 apartments in the Oracle has proved a winner. Mantra Group was quick to distance itself from the fall-out of the receivership of Oracle developers, South Sky Investments and concentrate on its own game.
Now achieving overnight room rates of $350, East says the offering is as good as it gets, with the towers becoming the cornerstone of the Group's five-star offering on the Gold Coast.
“Peppers is off to a flying start, we are obviously meeting the top end of the market very well,” he says.
“While most of our customers are domestic from Sydney and Melbourne, we are seeing a little bit of inbound from China. The Gold Coast overall is experiencing 3 to 5 per cent growth in occupancy, and had it of been sunny, those numbers would obviously be much higher.”
East says while it’s easy to talk up holiday figures in peak times, retaining high occupancy figures all year round would depend on future infrastructure and the Gold Coast’s ability to attract the lucrative Chinese market – the fastest growing economy in the world.
“I have a very firm belief that infrastructure is needed and local, state and federal government assistance is required,” he says.
“China is a huge market and to be competitive with Asia we need to look at their infrastructure and what it is they offer. Hong Kong for example is unbelievable. Governments need to understand that tourism is the key economic driver and the Gold Coast is well below par.
“Of course we’re isolated but we’re still underweight and getting the right product and tailoring it to the right market is paramount. We can’t just offer a Chinese menu and a laundry card and expect to attract that market - there’s a whole lot of things to be taken into consideration, including bed and room configurations.”
Despite being a newcomer to the Gold Coast, East is confident of doing his bit to take the industry forward and inject new ideas into what has become a stagnated landscape.
“It’s good to have a mix of local knowledge and fresh perspectives,” he says.
“I have high regard for those tourism leaders such as Paul Donovan (Gold Coast Tourism chairman) but it’s also important to bring something new to the table.”
Donovan, a fierce campaigner for the industry and also chief operating officer at Gold Coast Airport, says the domestic front has propped the sector.
“To be quite honest, the thing that is really us in good stead is the unprecedented growth in domestic tourism and we expect that to continue,” he says.
More than 2.5 million tourists visited the Gold Coast during the Christmas-New Year holiday period.
Gold Coast Airport is expected to release its December figures next week.
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