Quarantine hotels in Australia: Industry calls for compensation after rooms left trashed

When the world's top tennis players last visited Melbourne it was a case of the Australian Open meets the Big Bash after they turned their hotel quarantine rooms into makeshift training courts, banging practice balls up against everything from floor to ceiling windows and the bases of upturned beds.

While admiring their ingenuity and commitment, there were some, including hotel general managers, who winced at the likely significant room repair bill after the players served their time ahead of the Australian Open which began on February 8.

Sure enough, 10 months later - and 20 months or so overall since the pandemic was declared in 2020 - hotels around the country, including Melbourne and Sydney, are now counting the exorbitant cost of the COVID-19 quarantine racket (or, if you like racquet).

Not since the last major heavy metal act toured Australia have so many rooms been trashed by so many, yet the vast majority of rooms harmed during the pandemic were not at the hands of professional tennis players but ordinary returning Australians.

Leanne Harwood, president of the Accommodation Association, says the hotel industry will be compelled to close properties involved in the controversial national hotel quarantine program for as long as three months due to the wear and tear and outright damage caused by guests.

Now the already battered accommodation industry is actively seeking direct financial compensation from the public sector towards the costs of the full refurbishment of hundreds, if not thousands, of "beaten up" guest rooms.

"Hotels have been proud to step up from the start of the pandemic to play our role in protecting our community by supporting the government hotel isolation programs," says Ms Harwood.

"Where we were initially expecting quarantine business to continue for a limited time, in many cases hotels have continued under the program for extended periods, up to two years.

"With back-to-back stays over these extended periods, where guests are confined to their room 24 hours a day for 14 days, our hotel rooms have been put under extraordinary conditions without the upkeep they would receive under normal circumstances, which has resulted in significant wear and tear.

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"We are therefore currently working with government to agree appropriate reparation [in order] to return those facilities to their prior state, which will give guests full confidence and enable hotels to get back to their core business of providing hospitality to travellers."

Ms Harwood, who is also managing director of the InterContinental Hotels Group for Australasia and Japan, says some rooms were occupied "by people who clearly didn't want to be in them", a reference to the level of damage.

After more than a year and a half of quarantine usage, Ms Harwood estimates it could take between one and three months for hotels to refurbish rooms suffering from isolation wear and tear, and in some cases serious damage.

The industry is also concerned about the "reputational damage" caused to hotel brands and individual properties, particularly in Melbourne, during the controversial quarantine program, she says. Brands such as Holiday Inn, Rydges and Grand Chancellor have all suffered after having COVID-19 outbreak clusters inauspiciously named after them.

In Victoria, the accommodation industry, which insists it made little revenue, let alone a profit, from their participation in the now largely abandoned quarantine program, strongly objected to the practice by state government health authorities but their pleas were ignored.

Now hoteliers must be quivering in their own personal Dunlop Volleys at the potential of having to again host overseas tennis stars in their rooms.

Contrary to Victorian, if not federal, government policy, Tennis Australia was this week said to be optimistic that unvaccinated players would be permitted to compete in next year's Australian Open after two weeks of hard quarantine.

That would mean hotels would almost certainly again be co-opted to host players who could include world number one Novak Djokovic, who refuses to reveal his vaccination status. Sounds like another major hotel repair job could be in the offing.

See also: What happens if you catch COVID on holiday

See also: International travel is back: Everything you need to know

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