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Australia’s top luxury resort now a ruin with one man to blame.

February 11, 2021 Headline News, Hotel News No Comments

It is hard to imagine how one man could decide to reduce a stunning and high viable luxury resort from an annual occupancy rate in the 90%s and well over 650 jobs to within around a year single digit occupancy and approximately only 60 jobs.

You might not believe it, but it is true and I have seen it, with that is what happened when Clive Palmer bought the market leading Hyatt Regency Coolum, subsequently having a massive legal stoush with Hyatt, kicking Hyatt out, running it himself effectively and ultimately closing the resort and except for the golf course, allowing the resort to slide into a ruin.

A report in In Queensland says that after decades of memories, even the villa owners have packed up and left Palmer Coolum Resort with what they describe as

the ‘end of an era’ for former villa owners in Palmer Coolum Resort who have packed up and moved out after almost a decade fighting Clive Palmer, with more than 300 owners agreeing to settle with Mr Palmer late last year for a combined $20million (effectively $65,000 per quarter share) and leaving behind decades of memories.

Many of them were among to the first to have bought into what was once heralded as one of the “finest” resorts in Australia and among the most “lavish” in the world, with former villa owner Chris Shannon, who bought in 1995, saying there was a heavy sadness among the families who had relished their holidays relaxing by the pool, playing golf and enjoying dinner with friends at the restaurants.

“It is the end of era, it’s all over, there’s no going back, it’s finished,” Mr Shannon said, adding, “But we have to move on and hopefully one day sometime in the future someone will pick it up and reopen it back to its former glory.”

Built by Japanese company Daikyo in the 1980s, what was then the Hyatt Regency Coolum was hailed as not only the newest and best resort in Australia, but one that rivalled the best resorts in the world, with a 1980s brochure boasting that the Hyatt offered the “finest resort facilities available in Australia” developed with input from specialists around the world; a world championship 18-hole golf course, an international tennis complex, a spa and fitness centre, large gymnasium, creative arts, plus a kilometre of Pacific Ocean beachfront”.

The brochure announced that the Hyatt was “taking its place among the world’s most lavish golf and spa resorts”, adding, “Until now the world’s most lavish spa resorts were in the US and Europe. Until now”, and ”Australia’s spectacular Queensland coast now harbours Hyatt Regency Coolum, the continent’s only international resort and spa,” and “A world first for Hyatt. And a world first for those seeking to combine rejuvenation and revitalisation with relaxation.”

Initially it was heavily marketed towards business executives who lived in capital cities like Melbourne and Sydney as somewhere to enjoy a vacation on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, with company chiefs targeted to buy into the villas so their top executives could unwind in luxury while undergoing a “health assessment”  by the resort’s fulltime medic Dr John Tickell who would devise a program to help them “improve their ability to relax and rejuvenate”.

The likes of Budget founder Bob Ansett snapped up a villa which were priced from $100,000 for freehold and $97,000 for a quarter-share (which entitled owners to three months’ holiday each year), with a promotional quote form Mr Ansett saying, “Hyatt Regency Coolum is a facility for the Budget management team,” “Each can enjoy a vacation there for two weeks each year, but they must go through a full health evaluation program while they’re there.”

Leading multi-national and Australian corporations either chose the Hyatt for corporate conferences or invested in villas including Ampol, BP, BMW, Coca-Cola, Coles Myer, Shell, Telecom and Westpac Bank.

The early Members’ handbook had rules to ensure the exclusivity of the place, including limits on guests and dress codes for the tennis courts requiring that “appropriate tennis socks must be worn at all times”.  “To ensure and maintain the exclusive nature of membership, members are entitled to invite a maximum of one visitor to the resort each day to use the recreational facilities, with a particular visitor only being invited once in any one-month period,” the Members’ handbook stated.

But Mr Shannon says over the years, the resort became a family enclave and many generations returned across the decades, many of them flying up from Victoria, saying, “It was a family destination and it was a five-star resort where kids found their independence, freely running around, hopping on the shuttle, riding bikes without their parents,” adding, “You could let the kids go and know they were safe. It’s the most commented remark from people who stayed there” and “There were a lot of business people too but the families grew into the place and would come back year after year and some were the third generation of family.”

Famously, the Hyatt also hosted some of the world’s biggest celebrities and world figures, including Queen Elizabeth who stayed in the Ambassador’s Residence for three nights when attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2002.

Mick Jagger and U2 were guests who were able to unwind and mingle without being hassled and Mr Shannon remembers chatting to Ronnie Corbett one day in the golf pro shop.

Of course, the resort was synonymous with golf and from 2002 hosted the Australian PGA Championships, drawing international players like Greg Norman who was a regular, with the famed golf course which covers one-third of the site, and designed by leading architect Robert Trent Jones Jnr, later to appear like a joke when and losing the Australian PGA when Mr Palmer installed a 10m roaring dinosaur on the ninth hole in 2012 which later burnt down in 2015.

Highlights were Peter Lonard’s three wins (2002, 2004, 2007), Robert Allenby’s double (2005, 2009), Peter Senior’s win in 2010.

The resort brought a lot of money to Coolum and employed hundreds of people, with in its 80’s heyday it had 700 staff and was the largest employer on the Coast, with when Mr Palmer bought the place in 2011 he promised to revive the tourism gem which he said would help Queensland’s economy recover from the global financial crisis, saying, “The Hyatt Regency is one of the state’s leading resorts and has a rich history,” adding, “We have plans to increase its occupancy and make it one of the best resorts in the world.”  None of which sadly but not surprisingly actually came to fruition.

Jeff the T-rex was named after deputy premier Jeff Seeney, but Mr Shannon said no-one could have foreseen just how badly the place would suffer when Mr Palmer took over, not only opening the Palmersaurus dinosaur park with 160 giant rubber creatures but embarking on a campaign to get rid of villa owners, with Mr Shannon saying, “He promised everything but gave nothing, but no-one knew at the time of his capabilities,” adding “But with the right operator it could be brought back overnight.”

The reality may be though that it is too late and the local consensus is that Mr Palmer will wait and probably for as long as it takes, until he can divide the site into residential.

In the meantime, the whole resort including the villas is now shamefully covered in cobwebs. leaves and mould it very sadly slides slowly into becoming a ruin.

An edited report from In Queensland by John Alwyn-Jones

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