Marriott International bets big on Australia

Marriott International bets big on Australia

The new Melbourne Marriott Docklands is scheduled to open next month.

While international borders are still closed and its occupancy rates are still well off pre-COVID levels, hotelier Marriott International is taking a long-term optimistic view of the Australian market with an aggressive 18-month roll-out plan.

Sean Hunt, the group's area vice president for Australia and New Zealand, highlights several major development projects have been completed or are coming to fruition, such as the planned August opening of Melbourne Marriott Docklands and the opening of Courtyard by Marriott Brisbane South Bank earlier this year - the group's fifth hotel in the Queensland capital.

"We have now about 54 hotels in Australia and New Zealand operating and in the pipeline, so we have a really great growth story," Hunt tells Business News Australia.

"Just in Australia Marriott has 12 hotels scheduled to open by the end of 2022. If you take out the Christmas and summer period, you're almost talking about a hotel every month opening, which is quite impressive when you consider we're in a global pandemic.

"We probably control two-thirds of the luxury five-star pipeline in this country."

The roll-out varies from select service hotels, such as the signing of Marriott International's sixth Moxy hotel which is at the Sydney Airport, through to large-scale, luxurious projects in the heart of major tourism and business destinations

"The capital outlay can vary from a $50 million select serve hotel right through to a billion-dollar hotel development, which we're opening up in 2022 with the W Sydney which will be the most luxurious hotel in Sydney right on Darling Harbour," the executive says.

"To give you a sense of scale, five years ago Marriott had one hotel in Melbourne and now we've just recently signed our 18th hotel.

"We're also going into markets where we haven't been before, so we're increasing our corporate distribution network."

Examples include the group's first foray into Tasmania with a luxury collection hotel called The Tasman opening later this year in Hobart, a Westin hotel under construction in WA's Margaret River, and more.

"We have another Westin that is scheduled to commence construction on the Sunshine Coast of Australia in Coolum, and we've got a Ritz Carlton opening up in Melbourne following the opening of our Ritz Carlton in Perth," Hunt says.

"Whilst it's great to talk about brand new hotels entering the market, it's equally as important to ensure some of our legacy properties have been fully renovated and positioned for success.

"We did the JW Marriott Resort and Spa on the Gold Coast - a $40 million renovation that happened in February. We opened up the beautiful W Melbourne also in February which is a fantastic property and a landmark building for the city of Melbourne."

By the end of May the company's Australian operations were at 58 per cent capacity, with most of the guests either staycation or leisure-based.

"Corporates are a little reluctant to return. We are seeing green shoots of recovery, but every time we see a border closure and a shutdown it dents the enthusiasm and the trust that corporates can travel again," Hunt said.

"Some of my competitors have said we should open international borders. I'm not an advocate of that. I think what we need to do is work together to ensure that there are no more breaches in the quarantine hotel program."

Hunt explains most of the group's hotels in Australia are not for hotel quarantine, but for those that are he highlights the rigorous cleaning and delay period before they can return to operation for the public.

"We have Marriott's commitment to clean which is a very in-depth hygiene and robust cleaning program where we use electro-static sprayers, but the reality is if a hotel comes out of a quarantine situation and goes back to normal business, there will be a delay of several weeks where the hotel will be cleaned top to bottom," he says.

"Then there's a need to actually go out there and recruit additional staff, retrain and reopen, so we're seeing that in most cases if a hotel came out of the quarantine program and back into normal operation it's a four-to-six week turnaround."

When asked of any concerns around stigma of these hotels, the executive sees no issue at all.

"Time is a great healer and life goes on. I think the same question can be asked if a Qantas A380 is used to repatriate Australians, and then it's given a deep clean and then a month or two later it's used as a normal passenger flight to NZ - no one would think twice about it.

"Hygiene is one of the new amenities that guests expect now. They demand it. You've got to be seen to be delivering it, and delivering it in meaningful ways where guests can actually see it."

Hunt is well aware that hotels are not made for the task of hotel quarantine, but is proud of the work the industry has done overall to meet the challenge.

"I think that needs to be acknowledged, and yes there's the odd breach but we're getting better and better at this, bearing in mind five star hotels are not built as hospitals. They're not fit for purpose.

"When you consider that hundreds of thousands of Australians have come home and we've kept them safe through the quarantine process, I think hotels are playing a huge part and maybe at times maybe a little undervalued.

"We've got investors who are committed to the hotel sector, they see the long term viability of the industry and the returns. I'm forever the optimist, I would encourage everyone to get out there and get vaccinated. I think that's got to be the key that really ensures Australia's economic revival and getting back to normal."

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