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Update: Hotel industry fires back to help bushfire recovery

Hotels have opened their doors to support firefighters, support personnel and displaced residents.

Whether based locally or globally, the accommodation industry in Australia has rallied together to assist in the country’s devastating and ongoing bushfire crisis, with a cavalcade of humanitarian efforts coming from brands, businesses and individuals.

Many regional hotels have been directly impacted via their local communities and the response has come on multiple fronts. Efforts across the industry spectrum range from provision of non-perishable and fresh food and beverage, heavily discounted and free room rates for firefighters, support personnel and displaced residents as well as significant cash donations and fundraisers to a variety of registered charities make up the industry response so far.

AHA NSW, in partnership with Tourism Accommodation Australia, has made a donation of $250,000 to the Vinnies Bushfire Appeal on behalf of hotel members across both its pubs and accommodation hotels divisions. The group said further support from individual state organisations would be forthcoming once threats has subsided and the full scale of the disaster was more evident.

“The tourism industry is of vital importance to regional NSW and we hope this donation will help regional areas get back on their feet that little bit sooner,” said TAA CEO, Michael Johnson.

Many Australian cities have experienced hazardous air quality levels as a result of bushfires.

Two properties in the Choice Hotels Asia Pac network have been directly impacted by the fires, however both emerged unscathed in terms of physical damage, the company told HM. Both Comfort Inn Merimbula and Comfort Inn & Suites Emmanuel, Lakes Entrance, were situated close to the fire front but thankfully saw little more than soot and ash falling around the property. These and many others in regional NSW, ACT and Victoria have been housing displaced residents and evacuees. The company has pledged to donate $10 from every Choice Privileges stay in January and February to the Rotary National Bushfires Appeal and has been supporting individual relief efforts run by member hotels.

Hilton has invited its loyalty members to join its own fundraising initiatives, having kicked things off with a US$50,000 donation to the Salvation Army. Hilton Honors members can collectively raise a further $100,000 more for the same cause via a points matching campaign. More details on this campaign are still to be released and will be communicated directly to members.

InterContinental Hotel Group, through its partnership with OzHarvest, has responded to a request from the food redistribution organisation to provide 500 meals, which has been collected from Crowne Plaza Canberra and the National Convention Centre and delivered to Bega on the NSW south coast. In addition, the company has donated to the Australian Red Cross and is working to assist hotels to facilitate paid leave for employees wishing to volunteer time with the recovery effort.

Lancemore Hotels has pledged to donate 15% from each booking made throughout January with the codeword ‘relief’ to the Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery. The hotel group is also joining the front line, offering shelter to horses, cattle and sheep at its Lancemore Macedon Ranges for any farmers or cattle producers evacuating the fires in Victoria.

The humanitarian effort to the bushfires has seen the best of communities coming together.

At Shangri-La Group, an auction will take place at its annual MICE Showcase event in Sydney and Melbourne from 17-22 February to raise money for the bushfire appeal. In addition, Shangri-La Hotel Sydney is offering complimentary accommodation for families and individuals who have lost their homes. Those affected can contact Tourism Accommodation Australia for more information on this initiative.

Marriott International has pledged to donate free room nights for fire service volunteers and departments nationwide, with all hotels nationwide also able to donate cash and convert Marriott Bonvoy points into cash to donate to the Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief fund. Individual hotels will also be supported in promoting their own fundraising initiatives.

A donation of $30,000 has been submitted by Wyndham Destinations Asia Pacific, along with free holidays at Mt Hotham – Dinner Plain to CFA volunteer firefighters, who have spent significant amounts of time fighting blazes in the Victorian High Country. Timeshare owners who have lost their primary place of residence in the fires are also being offered free accommodation, with the company’s customer service team making contact with more than 3,700 Club Wyndham members in recent weeks.

Ramada Resort by Wyndham Dinner Plain is opening its doors to give firefighters a well-earned rest.

“A number of our resort guests, timeshare club owners, staff members and resorts have been impacted during this unprecedented fire crisis, and two of our club properties in Victoria – Ramada Resort by Wyndham Dinner Plain Mt Hotham and Club Wyndham Lakes Entrance – remain closed following evacuations over the busy Christmas and New Year period,” said Wyndham Vacation Clubs President and Managing Director, International Operations, Barry Robinson.

Complimentary room nights are being provided by Oaks Hotels, Resorts & Suites to displaced residents of bushfire-affected towns at selected properties in Australia. Redeemable until 30 June, affected members of the community can contact the company’s Australian office directly to find out participating properties and by providing proof of impact via a letter from their home insurer. Best available trade rates can also be provided should guests need to stay for longer periods of time.

With many properties in regional areas, the response from Accor has been broad and widespread across multiple states. Already a longstanding partner of state rural fire services around Australia, the group has opened its doors at hotels in several cities and towns to house firefighters and support personnel. In the Adelaide Hills fires, Mount Lofty House opened its doors along with several properties in Adelaide to provide shelter to displaced residents, as did Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains in similar circumstances. A hearty Christmas Day lunch was served at Accor’s Olympic Park properties to NSW RFS crews sacrificing the day with their families to remain on duty. On a regional level, properties in Canberra, Wollongong, Wagga Wagga, Cradle Mountain and Albany have held numerous fundraising initiatives, all of which have been well-supported and helped to raise thousands for worthy causes. Many staff across the Accor network have cancelled annual leave to come back early and assist in supporting operational roles at their hotels.

“The work that our Local State Fire Services undertakes is extraordinary – we are forever grateful,” an Accor spokesperson told HM.

An eerie shot from outside Quest Nowra.

For serviced apartment brand Quest Apartment Hotels, the company’s response has been multifaceted as many franchisees in regional areas are located very close to the fire front. Some hotels where needed have been turned into makeshift relief centres, with an allocation of rooms operating on 6-8 hour rotations for firefighters and ADF personnel to sleep, shower and eat. At a company level, an internal fundraiser has collected $48,000 so far for the Australian Red Cross, with The Ascott Limited chipping in $10k. Further, a dedicated consultant has been provided to facilitate bookings for insurance companies, victims and their pets.

From a medium to longer-term recovery perspective, BWH Hotel Group Australasia Managing Director, Graham Perry, says he is keen to see Best Western take a leadership role in encouraging Australians to help by taking holidays in regional communities after the fire threat has passed. After this period, local economies will need to recover and the tourism industry is well placed to drive this by urging people to fill local hotels, eat at local pubs and restaurants, buy local produce and support local attractions.

Perry said it was “absolutely essential” for all levels of government to encourage visitation to regional areas once the threat has passed.

“We want to play a pivotal role in directing the campaign that I’m proposing. It needs to have a holistic national approach [and the] national government needs to take the lead on this.”

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