Sydney places to stay: Prices high for first weekend after COVID-19 restrictions eased

State and international borders remain firmly shut to the lockdown-recovering citizens of NSW who are desperate for a break, but the great news is that Greater Sydney offers ample excellent holiday spots.

What's more, the initial resumption of travel within Sydney's generous boundaries is providing a great opportunity for the struggling hotel industry to recoup accumulated losses as it battles acute staffing problems due to the paucity of workers from overseas, including backpackers on special work visas.

Clearly, some deluxe and premium hotels are counting on an extreme level of pent-up demand. Take the Crowne Plaza Terrigal on the Central Coast, within the Greater Sydney boundary. It receives a mere "very good" - or 8.4 out of 10 - rating on the accommodation reservation site, yet a remaining standard room there, if you can secure one, will set you back a kingly $845 (breakfast not included) this Saturday night.

At the time of writing, rates at this Crowne Plaza rise to $1504 for a plush terrace spa premium ocean view suite.

Meanwhile, the five-star plus Park Hyatt, never a bargain stay and which sits in an enviable location right on Sydney Harbour in The Rocks, has been asking between $1224 on Saturday for a king bed harbour view room and $2133 for an Opera House view premium room. Those tariffs represent a roughly equivalent charge for suites at the Park Hyatt New York this weekend.

Elsewhere, at the only slightly less luxurious Sofitel Darling Harbour, the asking price is $3089 for its 112-square metre Bellerive Suite, replete with its own living and dining room. A superior room is selling for a comparatively more affordable, though still pricey, $529 per night - closer to the hotel's standard rate.

Demand for rooms in the Blue Mountains this weekend have been strong with the more upscale properties like the popular Echoes Boutique Hotel at Katoomba starting from $699 and rising to $819 for what's left of its rooms with spectacular, uninterrupted Jamison Valley views.

With intrastate travel prohibited for Sydneysiders until at least later this month as the rest of the state catches up on vaccination rates, Greater Sydney is defined as the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour local government areas.

Even with such giddy high rates, some hotel websites feature disclaimers that service levels will be reduced due to staff shortages.


But hoteliers are at pains to dismiss any suggestions that the high rates are akin to New Year's Eve style price-gouging. Dr Jerry Schwartz, director of the Schwartz Family Company which owns 15 hotels, including 11 in NSW, says it's important to understand the difficulties of reopening a 500-plus room hotel at full capacity during the pandemic, even with the lockdown having ended.

"We opened up the Sofitel Darling Harbour cautiously this week with the number of rooms allocated for sale based on the resources we had to service the rooms," he says. "Our entry-level rooms sold out immediately, leaving only Club Millesime rooms and suites remaining.

"We understand there is a pent-up desire for people to get out of the suburbs and experience Sydney reopened, and we will gradually make more rooms available over the next few weeks." But he says full hotel facilities won't open until at least next week "so we've opened up room availability on that basis".

Dr Schwartz says hotel costs are significantly higher to "ensure the best guest experiences" with establishments having to bring back teams and provide additional "refresher training" in order to gear up the whole operation.

Leanne Harwood, president of the Accommodation Association, says "cash flow is king" will be a mantra for a hotel industry beset by unheralded COVID-19 induced challenges, with many high-end properties only able to open up to half their rooms. Furthermore, international tourists are unlikely to return in large numbers until well into the first quarter of 2022.

"However, there is definitely a level of optimism in the accommodation industry about there being some light at the end of the tunnel and that demand will return in time," she says. "Until hotels are able to source enough staff to run a peak occupancy they will only have half their rooms open. Certainly, there's no boom and it's far from a normal situation."

Dr Schwartz recommends Sydneysiders looking for a five-star experience at the best possible rates consider opting for a staycation at a city hotel mid-week. Indeed, standard rooms for next Wednesday at the Sofitel Darling Harbour are a full $130 cheaper per night than this weekend.

(A room at the Crowne Plaza Terrigal drops to $474 mid-week, next week, with a room at Echoes in Katoomba falling to $399 for the same period).

"Weekends are going to be at premium prices for many months as couples and families look for a big weekend away," he says. "But there are seven days in a week, so pick the right days and you can get the same experience at a really attractive price."