Have Towel will Travel

It’s our special Resorts issue, and I’ve just been to two.

The first was the rather auspicious four-star Rydges resort in Port Douglas. Newly and totally refurb’ed, the food was amazing, my apartment room was very well appointed and I had a very nice time indeed. A day later I found myself at the Parkgate resort in Halls Gap in Victoria’s Grampian region. Effectively it’s a nice caravan park, where my family hired a cabin for a night. Very pleasant… the kids ran amok with impunity, there was a rainy-day room full of vintage arcade games like Frogger and Street Fighter, there was a giant ‘inflatable pillow’ for the kids to bounce around on like maniacs, a pool and tennis courts.

So what is a resort?

To complicate matters further, a seven-star resort is being secretly established on Palm Cove. Yes, seven-star! One can only imagine the level of fawning, forelock-tugging, loin-cloth wearing service on offer. A complimentary sedan chair is obviously a must as soon as the guest makes their way from the complimentary helicopter. And then it’s 24-carat, don’t-lift-a-finger super-luxury from there on in. A billionaires’ club.

Would said 7-star House of Extreme Decadence appreciate being lumped into the same ‘resort’ category as a caravan park?

Clearly the term ‘resort’ doesn’t hold quite the same cachet as it once did. And it highlights the fact that the industry is facing some unprecedented challenges — the dilution of the market being the most obvious.

Resorts are no longer for the super rich and it’s no longer necessary to fly to the Bahamas or the Maldives to find one. Resorts are sprouting up everywhere. As we’ll read later this issue, whole sections of the Australian coastline are effectively becoming resort colonies. Clearly the choices are enormous.

Traditional resort locations — tropical/isolated — are now far more accessibly thanks to cut price carriers such as Jetstar and Virgin. A flight to Cairns or Broome is now a very realistic proposition, while 15 years ago it would have been the preserve of the upper crust.

Consumers are now very savvy. The influence of the travel agent is clearly in decline and holiday-makers are far more inclined to shop around on the Internet. Tied in with this is the fact that consumers’ habits are far more ‘promiscuous’, in that the dependable ‘same bat-time, same bat-channel’ annual holiday has been replaced by whatever takes their fancy. Wotif and the like encourage this sort of spontaneity.

So in summary, we have a highly mobile, highly educated brigade of disloyal, cashed up holidaymakers, who are happy to shop around and make plans spontaneously. They like the idea of staying at a resort, but could just as easily opt for an apartment — after all, making those sorts of financial comparisons is just a mouse click away.

Resorts need to respond to these challenges, and they are.

All new resort properties now offer apartment-style accommodation. And the spin-offs are two-fold. Firstly, people now expect a kitchen in their room and they don’t like watching telly using the bed a sofa. Apartments are more family friendly and encourage holiday makers to extend their stays — stocking the cupboard with cornflakes and bread gives people the feeling of self-suffiency, even if that’s a tad illusory. Secondly, apartments can be more easily sold to investors. The resort manager looks after the property for a fee, and the investor has somewhere to go on holiday. Here’s how resort developers can defray their building costs.

Resorts, and accommodation providers in general, haven’t entirely figured out how to deal with Wotif other than to meekly co-operate. No one is suggesting Wotif is the bane of the industry, but online booking services make return business a difficult proposition thanks to alluring standby rates and mind-boggling choice.

Resorts do their best to return serve with ‘value add’ on-site sweeteners — day spas are an obvious one, as is superior food, kid’s facilities and the like — but next year there will always be something newer, swankier, cheaper, etc, to lure away your customers. Resorts also aim to provide the best possible deals on their own websites. But this misses the point. Consumers love the process or shopping around, comparing and browsing.

Rydges has read the market better than most. Yes, people aren’t necessarily loyal to one property, but other loyalty cards prove that people can and will stick with a brand. Hence the Rydges Priority Guest card was born, and it’s proving to be an instant success. You get a discount on your room rate (the best room rate, not rack rate) as well as food and drink. I’m sure other providers will follow suit.

There will always be room for the idyllic resort, in an idyllic location for the rich and for the honeymooners, but otherwise resorts are simply another option, duking it out in a market crowded with apartments, hotels and, indeed, caravan parks. It will be fascinating to observe how consumers take to the latest generation of resorts and (given the Aussie dollar is in such rude health) if it’s enough to keep Australians holidaying in Australia.

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