Holiday houses during the pandemic: Standards improve as guests become more demanding

For Australians, beachside and country holiday homes have always represented the essence of the great escape, offering refuge from the frantic nature of city life.

Before the latest lockdowns, holiday home owners were increasingly receiving inquiries fabout the quality of the Wi-Fi, as prospective guests sought to continue their working from home routine in a welcome change of scenery. In some instances, they became a kind of home office away from home.

"We'd been getting more mid-week bookings," says Kate Askew, owner of Nord House at Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula. This property was a silver medal-winner in the Stayz Holiday Homes of the Year Awards, annual gongs handed out by the online holiday accommodation site. "You can come down here and get away but still keep in touch with work."

Bronwyn Brown, owner of the luxurious three-bedroom, four-bathroom Dragon Tree House at Lennox Head, on the NSW Far North Coast, a bronze medal-winner in the awards, has also been receiving more inquiries about Wi-Fi quality..

However, her guests bring with them standards as lofty as any faux New York-style loft holiday home, as well as their laptops. And as if we don't already spend enough time in the company of our companion animals while working from home, holiday homes are increasingly catering for pet owners.

"Our expectations of holiday accommodation have exploded in quite a short time," she says. "Australians have always been big travellers but for the last 25- 30 years the type of traveller changed, as it became more affordable to travel.

"We've been exposed to lots of different accommodation types around the world." Up until then, she said, most of us still stayed in hotels and motels where all the rooms were the same, no matter what city you're in or floor you stayed on.

"Most of us want, especially at the higher end, an experience that transports us out of our normal life, instead of staying in a sterile hotel room," says Brown. Here's where high-end holiday homes come in.

"There's also the added advantage of local knowledge - the host can share all their favourite local haunts. Where the best coffee is, locals' favourite restaurant, walks and the like."


Professor Kate Darian-Smith, a Australian social historian at the University of Tasmania, says the increasing urbanisation of Australians over the last century, and the rapid growth of cities, has contributed to the stresses of city life.

"This has driven, for the minority of Australians who can afford to purchase a second home, an increased focus on the 'holiday house' as a place to re-charge and relax," she says.

"Of course, new technologies and the increased capacity for working from home have blurred the lines between a city house linked to work and a holiday house solely to escape."

Professor Darian-Smith says: "In the latter decades of the 20th century, the modest holiday 'shack' — often 'home built' and fairly basic in its facilities, and held by families across generations — has evolved dramatically.

By the late 20th century, such homes had become larger and better-equipped, although there has been a more recent shift towards more environmentally sustainably dwellings.

As Australians have travelled more extensively overseas too, there have been different expectations about holiday home comforts and also a new appreciation of Australia's great natural beauty."

For those fortunate enough to have a holiday house, we've seen an "escape to the country" occurring ahead of lockdowns in metropolitan areas, Professor Darian-Smith says.

"But given that technology means that we can work from and away from home, the collapse between a city house for work and a holiday/country place for relaxation and leisure is also collapsing."

Increasingly, holiday homes, when we're able to legally make our way to them, offer more than a hint of the destinations that have been denied to us throughout he pandemic.

The monochromatic, three-bedroom Nord House, with its "cabin in the woods" ambience channels Scandinavia, while Dragon Tree House has echoes of Bali combined with indulgent Euro touches such as Belgian linens.

The Stayz awards gold medal winner, the five-bedroom, four-bathroom Barra Luxe House at Point Arkwright on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, is a little more dinki-di than to die for, and has a less than glamorous past.

"As Australians look to continue travelling at home in the foreseeable future, Barra Luxe House is a perfect example of how far the humble Australian holiday home has come," says Stayz spokeswoman Simone Scoppa.

"It was a kitsch 1970s beach shack which used to be a popular choice for a laid-back, no-fuss family holiday. Now, it has a lick of white paint, a picture perfect pool and immaculately-styled interiors."

As for the hopefully unlocked Christmas-New Year summer holidays, when we can surely leave our laptops behind, borders-willing, Stayz reports that its Sunshine Coast member properties already have less than three per cent availability with Lennox Head even tighter. The Mornington Peninsula is sitting a little better with up to 12 per capacity.