CONCERNED: Property manager Sue Watson is worried about a proposal for a new high rise hotel
CONCERNED: Property manager Sue Watson is worried about a proposal for a new high rise hotel Contributed

Property manager debates need for hotel

SUE Watson owns the property management rights to Airlie Beach's five-star Pinnacles Resort and believes there's no space in the town for a new 200-room hotel.

Ms Watson, who is part of the Fight for the Airlie group, bases her opinion on 10 years of owning property management rights both here in the Whitsundays and on the Gold Coast, as well as a 30-year stint in tourism in New Zealand including five on the New Zealand tourism board. The hotel Ms Watson is referring to doesn't exist in Airlie Beach yet, but according to a report received by the council last week, a premium offering of between 10 and 12 storeys is recommended for the town.

While Ms Watson doesn't think it would necessarily be the nail in the coffin for her particular business, she does think there are plenty of others it would affect.

"Azure's gone into receivership, Summit has converted to residential and Peppers is in receivership. We're a unique building here (at Pinnacles) - we only have 31 apartments and we run a year-round occupancy at 80% but I would say others would struggle with occupancy for six months of the year,” she said.

At a meeting between representatives of the Fight for Airlie group and Whitsunday Regional Council's planning team on Monday night, Ms Watson described Airlie Beach as "a three-legged dog as far as tourism is concerned”.

"We've got all these provisions for a year-round destination... but a good wet season, like we might get this year, will put things on the back foot and take four or five months out of the season where we see occupancy of 30, 40 and 50%,” she explained.

"All we have is the islands (and) as a destination we are very weather dependent.

Tourism Whitsundays CEO Craig Turner agreed there was work to do in terms of filling the town in the low season "particularly for those months March through June”.

But I think if we want to continue to build the destination as a world-class destination we need to continue to develop the products we offer our customers,” he said.

Mr Turner also said care needed to be taken that people were "comparing apples with apples”, noting the Norling Report received by the council referred to a premium offering the like of which the Whitsunday mainland didn't currently have.

"And I think that sort of development - as in a premium offering - is potentially an area in our market we are probably under serving,” he said."I don't see that a five-star property would even compete with a three or four star property - it targets a different market and essentially if we haven't got that product in the market we may in fact find we're losing customers who would go to another market place,” he said.

Economics aside, Ms Watson's other main objections to a potential high-rise hotel at the proposed Port of Airlie site was the visual effect it would have on the town.

"I don't think you'll come across a developer anywhere who says 'we built a high rise on the beach and we haven't regretted it'. It's an environmental issue, it's ugly,” she said.

"If it was on the hill it would be fine... but (at ground level) I don't care what they do with it, you can drape plants over it, it's going to stick out like a sore thumb.”

Ms Watson said she asked all her guests what brought them to Airlie Beach and the majority said it was the "village feel”.

Whitsunday Regional Council has engaged the company Cardno to conduct a scenic amenity study to assess the scenic values of the region and help determine the scenic preferences of the local community.

Council's strategic planning manager Kylie Drysdale said in the study issues such as this would be addressed.