BY JAMES WILKINSON
The majority of North Queensland’s leading hotels and resorts are open for business following the arrival of severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi on Wednesday night (Feb 2).
The category 5 storm made landfall at Mission Beach around 1am AEST on Thursday morning, avoiding the heavily populated cities of Townsville and Cairns, but leaving billions of dollars damage in its wake.
Properties in the Accor, Mantra, Mirvac and InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) portfolios escaped relatively unscathed from the largest storm to ever hit the Australian coast.
Dunk Island and Bedarra Island, off the Queensland coast near Mission Beach, weren’t so lucky as they faced the full-force of TC Yasi.
The damage to both properties is “extensive”, according to Hideaway Resorts Chairman Rupert Greenhough, however he said all 100 staff members that remained on the resort are safe and accounted for.
“We are enormously relieved that all staff have safely come through this extraordinary experience, which is testament to the planning and preparations undertaken for these situations,” he said.
“We are confident that with their combined and significant experience of these properties, Hideaway Resorts CEO, Mark Campbell and Director, Andrew Menzies, will lead us through the recovery efforts, and allow the resorts to be up and running again, as soon as possible.”
Greenhough said at this stage it was unclear how long the resorts would remain closed for, but a further announcement would be made in due course.
Better news has come from further north, with Mantra Group’s 12 properties in Cairns, Port Douglas and Palm Cove reporting no major damage from TC Yasi.
Mantra Group Director of Operations Mark Hodge said all of the chain’s properties in Cairns and Port Douglas were currently open for business, while two resorts in Palm Cove were expected to open today (Feb 4) once extensive vegetation had been cleared from public areas, including swimming pools.
On the other side of the storm, the Peppers Blue on Blue Resort on Magnetic Island, near Townsville, was expected to re-open by the weekend, while further south, the Peppers Coral Coast Resort in the Whitsundays was expected to re-open by later this afternoon, following the restoring of electricity to Airlie Beach.
Hodge praised the efforts of his team throughout the cyclone process.
“Our team followed tried and tested procedures to ensure the safety of guests, team members and physical properties,” he said. “The speed in which they cleaned up the aftermath is extremely commendable.”
Accor, another large operator in the region with 12 hotels under the Pullman, Grand Mercure, Novotel, Mercure, All Seasons and Ibis brands, has reported that all of its hotels withstood the strong winds are were trading normally by mid-morning.
An Accor spokesperson said the company’s Pullman and Novotel hotels in Cairns maintained power throughout the night, “which was fortunate because the hotels were full with locals who had evacuated their houses”.
The spokesperson said while the Mercure Harbourside Cairns lost power around midnight, it “was expected to be fully operational again by mid-morning”.
The Grand Mercure and Ibis hotels in Townsville’s Palmer Street were evacuated yesterday and power was lost overnight, no damage was sustained at either of the hotels and they were also expected to be fully operational today. Nearby, the Mercure Townsville remained open, and while it lost power, it again became operational today once power is restored.
The spokesperson said other Accor hotels from Port Douglas to Airlie Beach reported that they had escaped undamaged.
Accor’s Regional General Manager – Queensland, Neil Scanlan, said that it was a relief that the hotels had escaped relatively unscathed.
“We feel very sorry for people whose houses have been damaged, but we look forward to helping with the reconstruction effort,” he said.
“Our hotels were filled with locals last night who believed their houses could be vulnerable, now the hotels will fill with emergency workers and other staff whose jobs will be to get far north Queensland back on track as quickly as possible.”
It’s also been good news at Mirvac’s five North Queensland hotels, with the majority of hotels operating normally.
Mirvac Hotels and Resorts CEO, Stephen Burt, said The Sebel Cairns and Cairns Harbour Lights remained open and were not damaged, while the remaining three properties – The Sebel Reef House and Spa Palm Cove, Sea Temple Resort and Spa Palm Cove and Sea Temple Resort and Spa Port Douglas – were all expected to be fully operational by Monday.
The Sebel Reef House and Spa Palm Cove and Sea Temple Resort and Spa Palm Cove, located on the beachfront, were evacuated and closed prior to the cyclone.
According to Burt, there was no structural damage to either hotel from Cyclone Yasi, however, the surrounding trees and landscaping were badly affected and a rectification both the grounds and swimming pools was underway. Both resorts are expected to open on Monday (Feb 7).
Up the highway, the Sea Temple Resort and Spa Port Douglas remained opened and was not damaged. However, like Palm Cove, the surrounding vegetation and trees were badly damaged and the resort is currently fully-functional and was expected to welcome new guests tomorrow (Feb 5).
“I am very pleased to report that our five Tropical North Queensland hotels and resorts were spared the worse of Cyclone Yasi and incurred no major structural damage,” Burt said.
“We will be welcoming our guests from this weekend at some hotels and early next week at others, to ensure their holiday plans are not completely shattered due to this unprecedented event.
“I am extremely proud of the way our General Managers and their teams went about ensuring that all guests were well cared for, all necessary precautions were made for the extreme weather conditions and their amazing professional attitude to getting on with whatever needed to be done.
“I congratulate them all and whilst I have sent best wishes to them and their families, I look forward to thanking them all personally over the coming weeks.
“Our first priority at the moment is the clean-up process, enabling us to resume normal business operations and to look after our guests,” he said.
Despite reporting minor wind and water damage, IHG’s properties in the region – Holiday Inn Cairns and Holiday Inn Townsville – are still operating, albeit with restricted services.
After the implementation of emergency services overnight, guests at Holiday Inn Cairns now have full access to rooms and the property has a ready supply of water and power. At Holiday Inn Townsville, services at the property will remain restricted until major utilities (water, gas and power) are restored in the city. However, Holiday Inn Townsville is currently running on generator power and its own water stores.
“Our teams at Holiday Inn Townsville and Holiday Inn Cairns have done a remarkable job protecting the welfare of their guests, and keeping them comfortable in the face of widespread outages of basic services,” said IHG Chief Operating Officer Australasia, Bruce McKenzie. “It’s been a tough night for everyone involved.”
On Lizard Island, 240km north of Cairns and 27km off the coast of Cape Flattery, minor damage was reported and the hotel was expected to open on Saturday, February 5. At Delaware North’s other Queensland property, Heron Island, it is business as usual for the resort that lies 72 kilometres off the coast of Gladstone.
On Hayman Island, the property is welcoming guests today (Feb 4) for the first time since TC Yasi. It was the second cyclone in a week to wreak havoc on Hayman after the property received a direct hit from TC Anthony (a category 2 storm) on Sunday night (Jan 30).
Hayman was, however, prepared for both storms and only minor damage to general vegetation and the beachfront Azure restaurant. According to a spokesperson from Hayman, Azure is closed in the short term to repair some aesthetic damage.
On nearby Daydream Island, minor vegetation was reported and the resort was expecting to return to normal operations either today (Feb 4) or tomorrow (Feb 5).
Daydream Island Resort and Spa Resort Manager Greg Betty said the property held up well against the storm and only a minor debris and vegetation clean up was needed.
“We have come through the strong winds very well and the cleanup has already begun,” he said.
“We are extremely grateful that Daydream has been relatively unscathed by the storm and it is good news for the Whitsundays.
“Our thoughts though are with those communities such as Tully and Mission Beach which bore the brunt of the Category 5 cyclone,” he said.
The region’s largest resort, Hamilton Island, also suffered only minor vegetation damage and was welcoming guests back today.
Hamilton Island CEO Glenn Bourke said downed tree branches were the only evidence of TC Yasi and Jetstar, QantasLink and Virgin Blue flights were returning to normal today.
“Hamilton Island’s extensive and rigorous cyclone emergency plans helped us to feel confident that we were ready for all circumstances,” he said. “Naturally our focus was on the safety and comfort of everyone on the Island.
“We were well prepared for the bad weather and had taken all necessary steps to ‘batten down the hatches’. This included moving our guests and staff into accommodation built to withstand high category cyclones.
“We also removed all outdoor furniture and brought all our vehicles indoors, secured all boats in the marina, as well as ensuring we had adequate food and water provisions for everyone. The Island is also highly self-sufficient so we were fortunate to have our own emergency generators which kicked in when the mainland power was lost.
“We are really proud of our staff and residents, everyone has pulled together exceptionally well. It’s great to see how quickly we have returned to ‘business as usual,’” he said.
Bourke said most of the Island’s retail, food and beverage and touring facilities have now re-opened for business, including the Hamilton Island Wildlife Park.