“Hotels are no longer just a place to stay, but rather have become lively and connected destinations for visitors and locals alike.”

These words can be attributed to Habitusliving.com.au author Rebecca Gross, but really, it becomes apparent to anyone with an eye on our hotel sector that unprecedented changes are afoot.

Since the opening of Australia’s first internationally-branded hotel – The Hilton Sydney – in 1974, our domestic sector has experienced its share of highs, including the hotel rush of the early 90s and its sequel during the lead up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and some devastating lows, not least of which was during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and the consequent absence of five-star developments between 1999 and 2017.

But rest assured, the current state of play paints an encouraging, if not downright euphoric, picture. Last year, the five-star drought was broken with the opening of Sofitel Darling Harbour, and a veritable flood of new developments has followed. Between now and 2025, more than 200 new or upgraded hotels are scheduled to come online around the country – signalling an industry in the process of reaching its zenith.

This upturn in production has also been paralleled by a change in the types of hotels being developed. A new generation of guests – and the shift in expectations this engenders – is resulting in a slew of hotel developments based around the pillars of design, technology, guest-centric experiences and sustainability.

Many of these changes were highlighted in a recent report by Tourism Accommodation Australia, but, to save you scrolling through its 27 pages, we’ve surmised the hotel trends to keep your eye out for (or to use as conversation fodder at your next networking event).

Think globally, act locally

While the hotels of yesteryear embodied a uniformity of style (ensuring that guests staying at a property on the Gold Coast would receive an identical experience at a similarly-branded hotel in, say, Los Angeles), hotel developments of the last decade have been built upon foundations of individuality. With guests no longer swayed by flashy names and hackneyed aesthetics, companies are rolling out a string of brands with design elements hailing to local landscapes and culture.

One example is Accor’s MGallery by Sofitel, a boutique high-end brand that aims to bring unique personalities and stories to life through architecture, heritage and location. The William Inglis Hotel in Warwick Farm, for instance, has drawn inspiration from its titular blood auctioneer, with each of its rooms named after a race horse sold by Inglis – including Black Caviar and Heroic – and decorated with the jockey’s
silk colours.

Marriott International’s W Hotels is another brand with a portfolio reflecting its diverse destinations. The recently-launched W Brisbane is woven with a locally-inspired narrative, with neon beetles on the elevators, colour-shifting wallpaper to reflect the city’s floods, carpets donned with serpents in the shape of the Brisbane River and even mixing bar stations modelled after the 50 gallon drums used as pantries post-WWII.

In addition to the stylised usurping the utilitarian, the typical locations of hotels have been turned on their head. A spate of boutique properties have opened across regional areas, in inner-city laneways, amongst wineries and in off-the-grid beachside locations, allowing for events beyond traditional city confines. Just take next July’s opening of Hayman Island, By InterContinental, as an unorthodox preview of what’s to come.

It’s easy being green

Hotels and sustainability is not a revolutionary pairing, but the sector’s scope for eco-friendliness has extended well beyond reusable towels and automatic lights. There are now whole resorts built on sustainable design principles, such as Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, which was crafted using recycled materials and boasts the title of the world’s first carbon neutral hotel. One&Only has incorporated rainwater collection, heat exchange technology and solar panel usage into its operations, and has thrown support behind the University of Western Sydney’s WomSAT citizen science app for wombat preservation. Spicers Sangoma Retreat in the Blue Mountains and Saffire Freycinet in Tasmania are other resorts with decidedly green blueprints.

Additional eco-friendly trends sprouting up around the country include electric car battery chargers, which have been rolled out at hotelier Dr Jerry Schwartz’ properties in Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley, the incorporation of gardens and natural elements within hotels’ interiors, for example The West Hotel in Sydney which has an open-air, lushly-foliaged garden atrium, and even the advent of onsite worm farms, herb gardens and bee hives.

The Mayfair Hotel in Adelaide tends its very own rooftop beehive, which not only contributes to the mitigation of a serious environmental issue, but provides plenty of sweet honey for executive chef Bethany Finn to incorporate into the Mayflower Restaurant’s dessert menu. Bethany’s honey and wildflower gateaux and honey panna cotta have reportedly created quite the buzz.

Finding their zen

In a similar vein, wellness has progressed beyond a moniker for kaftan-wearing bohemians, with an increasing number of big-brand hotels developing their ethos around rejuvenation. One of IHG’s new brands, for example, requires each hotel GM to lead guests in a yoga session every morning.

New and refurbished hotels around Australia are increasingly fitted out with gyms and fitness centres, health spas, retreat facilities and in-room exercise equipment, and health-driven menus and external fitness trainers are becoming garden-variety.

Some examples of zen-focused hotels include FV by Peppers in Brisbane, which offers in-house yoga and 24-hour gym access, Westin Hotels & Resorts properties which employ ‘running concierges’ to lead groups on runs of the local precinct, and both Pullman Palm Cove and Pullman Port Douglas Sea Temple which are replete with award-winning Vie spas and provide educational seminars on exercise, clean eating and use of organic products.

Children of the (tech) revolution

While the word millennial is often met with a tut and derisive eye roll, this has not been the reaction from the accommodation sector. Big name hotel chains have responded to a new generation of guests, and their various needs and preferences, with agility and innovation. This is especially true when it comes to technology.

This year, a study cited by the NoVacancy Accommodation Expo found that 70 per cent of young Australians prefer to communicate via written message than by phone call, and hotel giants have grabbed a hold of this statistic by integrating artificial intelligence into their service offerings.

In June, Marriott International announced a partnership with Amazon.com to increase guest amenities with cloud-based voice service ‘Alexa’. By simply talking into an Echo device, users can order room service, request housekeeping or call the concierge for dinner recommendations without picking up the phone. Likewise, in September, AccorHotels Australia announced a completely integrated Facebook chatbot called AccorBot, which assists with hotel reservations, customer service queries and city guide information.

The ubiquity of hotel WiFi has been another major shift in the sector’s landscape. In a recent survey of 300 Australian accommodation providers, Tourism Accommodation Australia revealed that 96 per cent offered some form of WiFi, with 65 per cent offering it to guests free of charge. Greater WiFi bandwidth, speed, delivery and safety are also on the rise.

Logically, new hotel developments are also being built around the proclivities of a new generation. In keeping with affinities for comfort and convenience, lobbies and communal areas have transformed from pragmatic spaces to open-plan areas with sofas and iPad check-ins. Hotel rooms are also increasingly based on the habits of their clientele, with foldable mobile desks that can double as dining tables, wall-mounted flat screen TVs with chrome cast functionality, and (thankfully) USB ports and power sockets next to beds now commonplace.

Marriott’s Aloft Hotels brand, which made its Australian debut in Perth last year, champions the design mantra of ‘what millennials want’. The hotels feature vibrant and relaxed common areas and rooms with contemporary architecture, as well as up-to-date technology, including RoomCast which allows for streaming of Netflix and YouTube, and free WiFi for all guests.

Likewise, the new Tribe brand, which also debuted in Perth last year, embodies the millennial predilections for the functional and affordable, with practical and casual living areas, compact rooms and connectivity all mainstays of the venues.

Being different

With a limited space to explain every wow that Australian hotels have we have probably been remiss not to mention many more properties that are working hard to create a point of difference to their competitors.

Properties like the Emporium at Brisbane’s Southbank, the QT group, and a growing number of boutique hotels are all doing their bit to keep the Australian accommodation sector at the edge of style and function. And we say, keep ‘em coming.