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Fancy a staycation? Thanks to the hotel boom sweeping the country, there has never been a better time to take a holiday at home. Investment in the hotel sector is at a record high, according to Tourism Accommodation Australia's CEO, Carol Giuseppi. "The last time this many hotels came online was in the lead-up to the Olympics, in the late 1990s," she says.
There are 200 new hotels being developed in our capital cities, according to Tourism Accommodation Australia, on top of the 5500 new hotel rooms that opened last year. The flood of new properties proves that hoteliers are racing to keep up with increasing visitor numbers, which reached 8.1 million arrivals last year.
Boutique hotels are playing a key role in the boom. "In previous decades, growth has come from the large international chains," Giuseppi says. "In this decade, we are also seeing a lot of growth in small properties, such as [Sydney's] Hotel Palisade or the Old Clare Hotel."
With their cutting-edge design and tailored experiences, boutique hotels appeal to travellers in search of a sense of connection. "The market is seeking small luxury hotels offering a range of immersive experiences, fine food and wine and high levels of service," says Visit Victoria's CEO, Peter Bingeman.
Unlike big chains, which rely on a consistent formula, each boutique hotel has to develop its own blueprint for success. Hobart's Macq01 hotel, for example, draws its identity from the island's past. Not only is each room named after a character from Tasmanian history, but staff also lead tours through the hotel revealing hilarious and heartbreaking histories.
"You need to give your guests an emotional connection," says Tom Wootton, sales and marketing manager with Macq01's owners, Federal Group. "We have such a seriously impressive collection of boutique hotels throughout the country that beautiful furniture and high design are no longer enough. You need a point of differentiation."
Increasingly, those points of difference are coming from newbie hoteliers. From the just-opened Paramount House Hotel in Sydney to Melbourne's upcoming United Places Botanic Gardens, first-time hoteliers are finding that their inexperience can actually be an advantage, offering guests a one-of-a-kind experience.
"We want to be warm, we want to be friendly, we don't want to be corporate," says Paramount House's Russell Beard. With a day job running a burgeoning cafe empire, Beard knows a thing or two about hospitality, and is proud of the hotel's points of difference, from coloured sheets to a free beer on arrival. "The French linens on the beds, we use them in our own houses," he says. "We are just doing what we really like; hopefully we will find that people love it, too."
As new boutique hotels continue to open across the country, we take a closer look at five properties that are helping to set new standards.
Paramount House Hotel, Sydney, NSW
THE TEAM Russell Beard and Mark Dundon are known as the go-to guys for good coffee, responsible for outlets such as Paramount Coffee Project, Reuben Hills, Seven Seeds and Bondi Hall. Together with business partner Ping Jin Ng, they are reinventing themselves as hoteliers, working with Breathe Architecture to bring to life a hotel inside two neighbouring buildings, including the heritage-listed Paramount House, once home to the Paramount Pictures Studios.
VITAL STATISTICS Rooms: 29. Facilities: rooftop gym and bar. Located in Surry Hills near Central Station. Opened April 2018.
THEY SAY "Not your average bed for the night," the website declares, going on to promise "a rich, layered local experience". Beard says the inner-city hotel is aimed at "people like ourselves, people who want to be plugged in when you arrive in a new city, who don't want to go too far to find interesting places to eat and drink".
WE SAY Plenty of hotels promise the opportunity to live like a local, but few pull it off as successfully as Paramount House Hotel. Forget the standard hotel lobby; here you enter through a buzzing cafe before arriving at a discreet reception desk where a staff member promptly pours you a cool beer. The rooms, a mix of heritage features and contemporary stylings, feel like the sort of warehouse-style apartment you would expect to be home to an app developer. Nothing here feels cookie-cutter. The bed linens come in shades of faded blue and apricot; tapestries hang on the walls instead of generic prints; and there are plenty of potted plants. Bathrooms variously feature terrazzo tile showers or Japanese bathtubs made of blackbutt wood. Most of the rooms have balconies although, this being Surry Hills, the outlook is distinctly urban.
DON'T MISS Coming in July, the in-house restaurant, Poly, will be helmed by Ester chef Mat Lindsay.
ESSENTIALS 80 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills, rates from $240, phone (02) 9211 1222 or see paramounthousehotel.com
Macq01, Hobart, Tasmania
THE TEAM Built by Federal Group, the company behind the nearby Henry Jones Art Hotel and luxury lodge Saffire, who enlisted the help of architects Circa Morris Nun and interior designers Pike Withers.
VITAL STATISTICS Rooms: 114. Facilities: Old Wharf Restaurant, Story Bar and Lounge, gym. Located on the Hobart waterfront, on the site of a former wharf. Opened May 2017.
THEY SAY "Macq01 is about connection to place," says Tom Wootton. "We are trying to connect guests deeply to Tasmania, through the story of place, through the design of the rooms and the common area, through the artefacts displayed throughout the hotel and through our storytellers."
WE SAY This intriguing hotel appeals to a range of travellers. Design fans will enjoy the architecture – the waterfront building is clad in white cypress, traditionally used in wharves – as well as the many artisanal works showcased in the rooms, everything from lampshades made of native timbers by local Duncan Meering to large-scale photo media triptychs by Devonport-born landscape artist Troy Raffles. History fans will love exploring the stories of infamous and unknown Tasmanians, from the author of Lion, Saroo Brierley, to cricketer Ricky Pointing, freedom fighter Manalenga and Joseph Lyons, the only prime minister born in Tasmania. The hotel employs a number of storytellers who lead tours that delve into the stories of many of these characters. Not into either design or history? Then you will appreciate the generously-sized rooms (starting at 44 square metres), the free movies and the reasonably-priced mini-bar, which features a well-chosen selection of local products, from Cape Grim water to leatherwood honey drops.
DON'T MISS The "think local" ethos is also evident in the hotel's bar – which stocks 17 Tasmanian gins and 21 whiskies, along with local brews and wines – and in its restaurant, where executive chef Simon Pockran prepares local produce, including Derwent Valley lamb, Spring Bay mussels and Cape Grim beef.
ESSENTIALS 18 Hunter Street, Hobart, rates from $270, phone (03) 6210 7600 or see macq01.com.au
Tribe Perth, Western Australia
THE TEAM The first hotel from Tribe Hotels, Tribe Perth is designed by Idle Architects. The eye-catching interiors are courtesy of designer Travis Walton and stylist Marsha Golemac.
VITAL STATISTICS Rooms: 126. Facilities: More pared-back than a conventional restaurant, Tribe Foods is a cafe by day, bar by night. Located in West Perth, right near Kings Park. Opened May 2017.
THEY SAY "We pack a lot of punch into a small space," says Mark Peters, managing director and founder of Tribe Hotels, a new company that teams compact rooms with high design. "Our research found that travellers are willing to sacrifice space for a high-end environment," he says. Or, as the hotel's press material puts it, "we got rid of the pricey mini bars, stuffy spas and hidden costs to instead focus on creating an edited experience that gives guests everything they need and nothing they don't."
WE SAY An 18-square-metre hotel room sounds positively claustrophobic, but Tribe's cleverly-designed rooms don't feel as squishy as you might expect. The floor-to-ceiling windows add a sense of space; suitcases fit under the bed; the (luxuriously thick) towels are hidden behind the bathroom door; and the mirrored panel above the bedhead lets you check how you look before heading out. However, Tribe is less about the rooms and more about the public spaces. The lobby, with its custom-designed furniture, theatrical lighting and eye-catching design features, would not be out of place in a much more expensive hotel. Not only does it look spectacular but the clever use of bookshelves, banquettes and green walls creates intimate nooks and crannies without carving up the space. Whether you need to finish a report or are catching up with friends, you will find a spot that works for you.
DON'T MISS An appealing aspect of Tribe is the good-value extras: freebies include breakfast, Wi-Fi, movies on demand and the (sparsely stocked) mini-bar.
ESSENTIALS 4 Walker Avenue, West Perth, rates from $139, phone (08) 6247 3333 or see tribehotels.com.au
Emporium Hotel Southbank, Brisbane
THE TEAM A decade after the acclaimed Emporium Hotel opened in Fortitude Valley, the Anthony John Group is upscaling with a bigger, better property. Architecture and interiors are once again by the Anthony John Group.
VITAL STATISTICS Rooms: 143. Facilities: restaurant, rooftop bar and pool, day spa, gym, grand ballroom, conference rooms. Located in the new Southpoint development on South Bank. Opening July.
THEY SAY "We have stepped up a mark," says Tony John, managing director of Anthony John Group, of the new Emporium, which will be twice the size of the previous hotel. General manager Peter Savoff says the new hotel will offer a serious level of luxury. "The finishings, from the stoneware to the electronics, are deeply luxurious, and we are using the same six-inch mattress toppers for that sink-into feeling," he says.
WE SAY As yet, many of the details are still under wraps, but you can expect wow factor at the new Emporium, starting with the soaring lobby space. The lifts will have eye-catching media walls, but the most talked-about feature promises to be the rooftop area with its magnificent views. It will include an infinity pool, a restaurant where guests can enjoy breakfast as well as dinner, and a bar with a white onyx stone floor that lights up, Michael Jackson-style. Savoff promises the Emporium's famously attentive service will be on display in the new property. "Our X factor is our service culture. We are fussy with our staff selection, and absolutely obsessive with our customer service training. People will visit once or twice for the design, but it is the service that keep them coming back."
DON'T MISS The Emporium is investing heavily in food and beverages. In addition to luring one of Brisbane's top chefs, Josh Lopez, as executive chef, it is fitting out each room with a mini-bar as well as a wine fridge filled with premium drops.
ESSENTIALS 269 Grey Street, South Bank, rates from $300, see emporiumhotels.com.au
United Places Botanic Gardens, Melbourne
THE TEAM First-time hoteliers Darren Rubinstien and Richard Rogers chose Carr Design to deliver both the architecture and the interiors for this new property.
VITAL STATISTICS Rooms: 12. Facilities: restaurant, butler service. Located in South Yarra, overlooking the Botanic Gardens. Opening June 2018.
THEY SAY The key word to describe United Places is generosity, says Rubinstien. That relates not just to the size of the suites – which range from 70 square metres to 85 square metres – but also to the value-for-money proposition, including the free mini-bar stocked with local beers, pressed juices and artisanal chocolate, which is replenished every day.
WE SAY Designed to cater for long-stay guests, every suite has separate sleeping and living areas. The mirrored shower pods are our favourite design detail – they allow you to enjoy the view while you're washing your hair. There is an emphasis on local and artisanal materials, and products that include everything from the choice of whisky (Sullivans Cove from Tasmania) to the Szilvassy Ceramics, which use local clays and are fired using wood from sustainably-harvested fallen logs.
A lot of attention has been paid to the surfaces in the rooms. "Everything should feel special; if we achieve that, we have done our job," says Rubinstien. Interior walls have been cement rendered, while the bathroom floors use timber flooring rather than tiles everywhere except the shower recess. "It is about the feeling on your feet in the morning," says Rubinstien.
The hotel has scored a coup by hooking chef Scott Pickett (Estelle, Saint Crispin) to head up the in-house restaurant, Matilda. Pickett will also create breakfast hampers which will be delivered to guests in their rooms.
DON'T MISS Rubinstien promises the hotel's butler service will be a point of difference. "They will be at your beck and call for everything from in-room dining to laundry to turn-down, to whatever other services you need."
ESSENTIALS 157 Domain Road, South Yarra, rates from $650, see unitedplaces.com.au
5 UPCOMING HOTELS GENERATING BUZZ
W HOTEL, BRISBANE
WHEN JUNE 1, 2018
The playful W brand is planning a number of Australian properties, with Brisbane the first to open its doors. The industry is already talking about its bold design, its rooftop pool and its in-house restaurant, an offshoot of Sydney's acclaimed Three Blue Ducks.
THE TASMAN, HOBART
WHEN LATE 2018
Housed in heritage buildings on Parliament Square, The Tasman will have plenty of old-world details, including original windows, fireplaces and floorboards. More modern touches include artworks by local artists and a sophisticated whisky bar.
EQ WEST, PERTH
Perth's new waterfront district, Elizabeth Quay, will be home to a number of hotels, but the EQ West development is generating the most excitement. Much of the buzz surrounds the architect, Kerry Hill, best-known for his work with the five-star Aman Resorts.
THE SANDSTONES, SYDNEY
A $300 million redevelopment is set to turn former government offices on Bridge Street into one of the city's most luxurious hotels. No operator has yet been announced for the property, which will include a rooftop winter garden and plenty of heritage features.
One of the world's most prestigious hotel companies will make its Australian debut in a Collins Street skyscraper designed by the late Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid. Few details are available yet, but given Mandarin-Oriental's emphasis on gourmet dining, expect a sensational restaurant.
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Since opening last year, Louis Li's luxurious Mornington Peninsula retreat, Jackalope, has raked in both rave reviews and design awards. No wonder Li has decided to turn Jackalope into a brand. The next property is set to open in Melbourne's Flinders Lane in 2020. jackalopehotels.com
With bright design, plenty of communal spaces and accessible prices, Vibe Hotels are popular with the millennial market. The company's portfolio of nine properties includes the eye-catching Canberra Airport hotel, which has scored some big industry awards. vibehotels.com
This Canberra-based brand offers guests contemporary fit-outs with plenty of mod cons, including coffee machines, refrigerators and microwaves, and even washers and dryers. Its brand-new Murrambateman property is perfectly located for touring the local wineries. Abode's sixth hotel is opening in Kingston, one of Canberra's best dining precincts. abodehotels.com.au
When QT Perth opens later this year it will be the 10th property for this irrepressible hotel group. Having already spread its wings to New Zealand, QT is not shy about looking overseas, confident there is a market for its fresh, cheeky mix of high-style, high-octane accommodation. qthotelsandresorts.com
Waking up in a room filled with world-class art is just one of the perks of staying at an Art Series hotel. Each hotel is named after the artist whose work it showcases – hence The Olsen, The Blackman and The Cullen, amongst others. No word yet on which artist will feature in the group's eighth hotel, opening in Brisbane later this year. artserieshotels.com.au