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Australasian hoteliers urge states to reopen borders

Accor Pacific Chief Operating Officer, Simon McGrath.

Australia needs full and unrestricted access to other states and territories in order to kickstart domestic tourism and give the industry a fighting chance to begin its recovery, four leading Australasian hoteliers have urged.

The unified calls came from Accor Pacific COO, Simon McGrath; IHG Australasia MD, Leanne Harwood; Quest COO, David Mansfield and Choice Hotels Asia-Pac CEO, Trent Fraser as part of HM’s inaugural ‘The Recovery Starts Now’ webinar, sponsored by Intrust Super and Hostplus.

Additionally, South Australia ruffled feathers by re-opening its borders to travellers only from Tasmania, Northern Territory and Western Australia, adding Queensland will be next. The move angered Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews and his NSW counterpart, Gladys Berejiklian, with both expressing their displeasure and kicking off a war of words between the sides.

Speaking during the webinar, McGrath said the leisure market was starting to flow between open states, directed primarily at leisure destinations such as Queensland.

“The reality is, last month [May 2020] across the region we did 7% occupancy. This month we’re going to do 14% and we’ve got the opening of leisure markets, which is a very positive thing and it’s starting to flow,” McGrath said.

“People are making their own decisions and taking their own risk to travel, and that’s good and I think there’s pent-up demand.

“The border openings are important and my view is they’ll all come together in a matter of weeks and then I think that will be a very positive move to Australian tourism domestically.”

IHG’s Managing Director Australasia and Japan, Leanne Harwood.

InterContinental Hotels Group MD Australasia and Japan, Leanne Harwood, said IHG was actively lobbying for the next step forward on borders and to get business travel moving again. She said weekend demand in leisure markets was strong and rebounded almost instantly but that alone would not sustain the industry’s recovery.

“Without mid-week travel, we’re completely on the back foot and just not viable. We need those borders open and we absolutely need to encourage people to get out there and travel again.

“We need to get security and trust to the consumers to know that they can get on a plane and can go to conduct business in a safe environment.”

Choice Hotels Asia-Pac CEO Trent Fraser

Choice Hotels Asia-Pac CEO, Trent Fraser, was particularly scathing of the political football kicked around earlier this week by Premiers from South Australia and Victoria. He said the infighting was doing nothing positive for encouraging travel.

“The priority here is to get our borders open,” Fraser said.

“We’ve got to remember that for a lot of our properties – their businesses are their lives’ work. It’s disappointing and sad for me to see state Premiers making this into some sort of political football, comparing their virtues and assets between one another.

“We need to park the egos and get on with opening up the borders and getting these businesses back up and operating, otherwise they can look forward to more job losses and more business closures, which is certainly not the path we want to take.”

Quest Apartment Hotels COO, David Mansfield

For Quest Apartment Hotels, which has built its brand in regional areas, Chief Operating Officer David Mansfield said franchisees had been putting their lives on the line and had experienced significant anxiety from the border closures with only modest growth from intrastate markets.

“Our CBD and suburban [areas] have been hardest hit and regionally too but over the last three months, we’ve seen modest growth in our occupancy over this COVID period,” Mansfield said.

“We recognise our key opportunity was to keep the doors open in our businesses and keep our franchisees in business, and thus far we’ve been able to achieve that across all 140 properties in Australia.

Mansfield said the company’s recently launched promotion was aimed at driving revenue opportunities through to the network, to gauge consumer sentiment and to put together a campaign that resonated with its core customer across all areas.

“The amount of stress that is on all stakeholders that we’re managing at the moment is endless and the mindset of our key stakeholders – whether it be customer, franchisee or landlord – has shifted and continues to shift as this unravels and unfolds.

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