Brisbane is experiencing an accommodation revolution and is leading the field when it comes to upscale hotel development around the country. In the past 12 months, a suite of new properties have opened their doors and many more developments are in the pipeline. Put simply, Brisbane is "hot", says Accommodation Association of Australia chief executive officer, Richard Munro. "Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne are enjoying record occupancy levels, and this has manifested into new development opportunities. And it's Brisbane that's setting the pace for new properties."
Long-lead preparations for last year's G20 Leaders' Summit in the Queensland capital acted as a wake-up call, says Munro, throwing a spotlight on the shortage of five-star hotels in the city. Government initiatives to address the hotel shortfall - ranging from fee waivers to setting aside specific development sites - are bearing fruit fast. Last year marked the end of Brisbane City Council's three-year waiver of infrastructure charges for new four- and five-star hotels. Before this incentive, there had been no major CBD hotel openings in a decade. Since the fee moratorium, 12 new hotel applications have been approved.
Last year, 5,161,000 domestic travellers spent the night in Brisbane, with almost a million overseas tourists sleeping over in the nine months to September. Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Graham Quirk, says demand for hotel rooms is on the rise from leisure as well as business travellers. "Last year it was revealed that Brisbane was forgoing an estimated 278,000 room nights every year due to a shortage of internationally recognised full-service hotel rooms," says Cr Quirk. "Since then, however, approximately 575 additional hotel rooms and 337 serviced apartments have come online, with a number of key hotels opening and more are set for completion in the coming months."
Boutique property Spicers Balfour Hotel in inner-city New Farm isn't new - it opened in 2010 - but it's in expansion mode. By spring it will have all but doubled in size. Eight new luxury suites are being created in an Art Deco building located two doors down from its original nine-suite Queenslander. Spicers Balfour Hotel general manager, Sam Giles, says Balfour's new rooms are geared towards leisure travellers. They will be larger than the existing options, averaging 35 square metres compared with 17 to 24 square metres.
"We've been running at between 87 per cent and 92 per cent occupancy, so we felt the demand was there for new rooms," says Giles. The investments being carried out by Spicers and other hotel groups are in response to changing traveller behaviour patterns.
"In the past, tourists thought there wasn't a lot to do in Brisbane, so they'd fly in and drive out to the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast or Byron Bay. Now they spend one or two nights in the CBD first."
If you're in the market for a hotel room in Brisbane, whether it be a new property or an established one, now's the time to bag a five-star bargain, says Munro. "When new properties come along, everyone looks at their product and tries to improve. Initially this means discounting, which is great for consumers."
BRISBANE'S BEST NEW PLAYERS
TRYP FORTITUDE VALLEY HOTEL
It's difficult to imagine how this 65-room hotel could better suit its groovy-but-still-gritty location. It's covered in street art, with a portrait rendered by Melbourne artist Rone adorning three upper storeys of the façade. It also has one of Australia's coolest breakfast options - chef Warren Turnbull's Chur Burger is at street level and his team also looks after in-room dining.
Five storeys above the ground, reached via custom-glass elevator, is Turnbull's colourful rooftop bar, Up on Constance. Tryp's interiors are just as eclectic, pops of orange and blue resonating with the ubiquitous street art. Each floor features artworks and murals by a single practitioner. The artists Rone, Beastman, Numskull and Fintan Magee used to break into the building when it lay derelict. Designers retained many of the existing pieces and added new works. Tryp's difference is the effort it makes to embrace the neighbourhood. Managed by Wyndham, the motto for guests is "own the city", and staff look the part, wearing Brisbane designer Black Milk. Best party digs? Two of the king rooms have external astroturfed terraces with a four-person spa.
Rooms from $149. Tryp Fortitude Valley Hotel, 14-20 Constance St, Fortitude Valley, (07) 3319 7888
NEXT HOTEL BRISBANE
Sitting right in the heart of the CBD is Next Hotel by SilverNeedle Hospitality - a clever revamp of an old Brisbane icon, Chifley at Lennons. For a city-centre hotel aimed at the business traveller, the 304-room, 20-storey Next Hotel crams in a swag of cool recreational nice-to-haves. Exit the hotel on Burnett Lane side and you'll encounter a quirky mix of alleyway finds: slick eatery The Survey Co, industrially chic bar Super Whatnot, Felix Espresso and Wine Bar, plus The Record Exchange, a huge second-hand vinyl store and more. Leave from the Queen Street Mall exit and you're in the middle of Brisbane's busiest shopping strip.
The rooms are well-designed and functional rather than glam, but deliver some five-star touches for your four-star tariff. This flagship brand of Singapore-based SilverNeedle Hospitality has invested heavily in technology.
Its smartphone check-in and smartphone-operated hotel rooms are examples of the fresh thinking that's altering the landscape for guests. In particular, frequent travellers welcome the chance to select a room online and go straight up, bypassing reception.
General manager Alexander Billing says the bulk of Next's rooms are occupied by corporates and business travellers midweek, but at the weekend, the demographic changes. "We're seeing lots of 25- to 35-year-old well-travelled people looking for fun. So from early on a Saturday we're seeing pool cocktails - it's like a little slice of Miami in Brisbane."
The rooftop terrace, with a cool 20-metre pool, is another game-changer. Facilities in the lounge range from a bar and pool to sleep pods, showers, locker rooms, a help-yourself pantry and 24-hour gym. They are available to all guests, not just those who pay extra. There's generosity, too, in the minibar policy, which offers four items free of charge daily.
Hungry? Smart-casual Lennons Restaurant & Bar has Todd Adams, formerly of Stokehouse Brisbane, at the burners, grilling whole local Moreton Bay whiting and serving it with lemon, rosemary and fennel salt, or a steak cooked on the parrilla, with a buckwheat and quinoa salad and smoked yoghurt.
Rooms from $229 including breakfast. Next Hotel Brisbane, 72 Queen St, Brisbane, (07) 3222 3222
This four-storey inner-city hotel is a surprise package - a glam oasis of Hirsch Bedner-designed interiors a footie kick from Suncorp Stadium. It's not clear whether UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon made the most of its location (GT 2015 Bar of the Year, Lefty's Old Time Music Hall, is staggering distance) when he stayed, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel impressed locals by hitting the Caxton Street strip during the G20.
The Gambaro family has been in hospitality since the 1950s, starting out with a simple fish and chip shop, and the hotel's dramatic atrium artwork, featuring shoals of fish, is an homage to humble beginnings. The big selling point here, apart from the five-star trappings, is the genuine warmth of a family operation generated by the hands-on owner-operators.
Entry-level rooms back onto the light-filled atrium, so while the interior palette is Armani-muted, it's not too dark. Double-glazing is also super-effective - and necessary, given the proximity to Caxton Street. But 49 of the 68 rooms have balconies, so you have the choice to scope out the street action from above.
Top digs are the two-bedroom suites - the JG Suite hosted a bilateral meeting during G20, but the fourth-floor Paddington Deluxe suite gives sports fans the best vistas of Suncorp Stadium.
Rooms from $199. Gambaro Hotel, 33 Caxton St, Petrie Terrace, (07) 3369 9500
THE NEW INCHCOLM HOTEL & SUITES
There's a jaunty Knightsbridge-meets-New York feel to the fetching white stucco and brick exterior of Brisbane's first MGallery hotel. Last year's $8 million revamp has been rewarded with an official five-star rating by AAA Tourism and the room tally sits at 50, including some double-storey, light-filled, New York-style loft suites in a modern addition at the back of the property. Rooms are elegant and individual - Robertson Design Studio International has blended old and new, featuring layered patterns and glam touches like four-poster beds in some suites, with bespoke room carpets and custom mirrors throughout. The scale is intimate with a definite nod to the site's heritage.
Thomson's Reserve Restaurant tables are linen-dressed at night and chef Andrew McCrea serves contemporary dishes with a local focus - the likes of Hervey Bay scallops with pig's cheek, sea parsley and preserved lemon "paint" or perhaps organic duck with fennel, aniseed and apple.
Rooms from $249. The New Inchcolm Hotel & Suites, 73 Wickham Tce, Brisbane, (07) 3226 8888