Emirates opens $125 million Australian resort

WHY is a Middle East airline building a resort in country NSW? It's a good question, but it's not mine. The question and answer come from Joost Heymeijer, the general manager of the Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa in the Blue Mountains, which opened last week.

I ask him how bookings are tracking at the $125 million resort, given that the starting price is $1950 a suite a night and the global financial crisis continues. Heymeijer says he is not at liberty to reveal that detail but does concede the world's financial woes have had an impact.

“When I was drawing up the forward plan I thought it would be a 70-30 mix [of guests] in favour of internationals,” Heymeijer says. “The GFC has changed that, that's for sure. It is looking more like a 50-50 split now.”

Heymeijer says there is strong interest from Germany, Britain, Italy and France but not from the US yet. He is optimistic this will change when an advertising campaign begins in the US in November.

And in answer to that question of his, Heymeijer says Emirates developed Wolgan Valley Resort to enhance its reputation as the provider of the very best in hospitality – in the air and in luxury conservation-based resorts.

The company's first resort, Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa, built a decade ago near Dubai, is the model for ecologically sustainable luxury on which Wolgan Valley is based.

Initially, Wolgan Valley was not on the short list of six possible sites for an Australian resort but got the nod when Emirates' executives saw it from the air. A third resort based on the same principles is planned for Cap Ternay in the Seychelles. “This is not about short-term gain,” says Heymeijer. “In 50 years' time, we will still be here and leading the way.”

Heymeijer believes Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa, which was six years in the making, will stand alongside Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, the Louise in the Barossa and Qualia on Hamilton Island and will enhance Australia's international reputation as a destination for super-luxury tourism experiences. He sees the resort appealing to the international traveller who favours the New Zealand luxury lodges, the Aman brand in Asia and deluxe South African safari companies.

Heymeijer says there is strong interest from the Sydney market. “There's not a lot that is new in regional NSW," he says. "Victoria is better served by upmarket accommodation in the regions.”

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The resort is 190 kilometres, or three hours' drive from Sydney, and Heymeijer believes the MICE sector (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) will be attracted by its proximity to Sydney.

The resort has a licence for four helicopter arrivals a week but Heymeijer thinks most guests, even overseas travellers, will opt for the road journey, via Katoomba or Bells Line of Road.

Heymeijer believes Wolgan Valley Resort represents value for money, pointing out that the starting tariff of $1950 a night is for two people and includes all meals, including a five-course dinner, most alcohol and two nature-based activities each day in line with the resort's commitment to showcase its surroundings.

And to get those bookings ticking over, Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa has a pay pay two, stay three nights' deal until December 23. See emirateshotelsresorts.com.

Photos: Emirates' $125 million Australian resort

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