By Ellen Boonstra, Asia correspondent >> 

IS THIS what the future of travel will look like? This fantastical looking rendering was conceived by the famous and Bangkok-based architect Bill Bensley, affectionately known as the ‘Willy Wonka’ of hotel design.

When approached by a client to design a zoo with some 2000-plus hotel rooms in Wuchuan, southern China, he decided to turn the idea upside down and create an opulent zoo looking out over a wildlife sanctuary where beasts roam free, dedicating 95 percent of the land to the animals.

Already the project has garnered a lot of hype for the scope of its ambition and the depth of the ingenuity behind it.

Scheduled to be built on what is now a duck farm, the grounds of the first resort will house exotic animals from all over China – and travellers from around the world who will stay in 2400 rooms.

Around US$1million dollars has been allocated for each of these palatial suites.


Two new resorts Mr Bensley is designing will incorporate elements of Tibetan splendor and Bhutanese folklore, in China; while his property planned for Australia will meld frontier influences from the country’s gold rush; and one of his African hotels is based on termite mounds.

Thinking outside the box is the American designer’s forte and raison d’etre. After all, this is the man who masterminded the Shinta Mani Wild resort in Cambodia where guests ‘fly in’ by using a zipwire over the jungle.

But there’s a deep appreciation of nature underneath the surface of his idiosyncratic designs.

The Cambodian resort helps to preserve the Southern Cardamom National Park by contributing money to the Wildlife Alliance anti-poaching patrols.

Many of his other designs like The Siam in Bangkok are rife with natural elements. 

Similarly, the new resort in China will include and draw attention to the plight of endangered species like pangolins, the world’s most trafficked mammal, just as it will serve as a safe haven for animals rescued from deplorable attractions across China.  


To make sure that the first resort is fully sustainable and animal-friendly Mr Bensley has hired a full-time zoologist.

This zoologist will also participate in the train tours around the animal sanctuary to stop at eight separate spots. Each stop will impart a different lesson about environmental responsibility and wildlife conservation.

With big-time hoteliers on board – such as Hilton, Conrad and Hyatt – to manage the properties, World Wild promises to be a game-changer in eco-hotels.

No need to make a booking just yet. The project will only break ground this year and is slated to open in 2022.

This is only the first phase of the World Wild project, expected to take eight years, which will include other resorts with green themes in Australia and Africa.


COVID-19’s immediate impact on domestic tourist movements across Australia will extend to sweeping long-term changes in tourist behaviour, according to a new survey assessing the future of domestic tourism in Australia.

Researchers at Flinders University have found that people are flagging future changes to their activity engagement, modes of transport, and the types of accommodation they will select once restrictions are further relaxed or eventually removed.

The survey shows that most recipients remain very cautious about recommencing leisure travel and have a list of limiting factors that will influence their future engagement in domestic and international holidays, according to lead authors Gareth Butler, a senior lecturer in tourism management, and Gerti Szili, a lecturer in geography at Flinders University. 

Dr Butler and Dr Szili found that almost 93 percent of recipients placed the safety and wellbeing of themselves and their families as the most important factor when choosing to re-engage in either domestic or international leisure travel.

They deduced that more than 85 percent of potential travellers were concerned about the safety and wellbeing of host communities at destinations they would visit.

Other strong concerns voiced by survey recipients were their strained financial situation, fears of encountering a second wave of COVID-19 infections, and the possible need to self-quarantine after travelling.

Despite these concerns, two-thirds (67.2%) expected to take intrastate overnight holidays within three months, and 80 percent wanted to re-engage in day trips within three months after restrictions are relaxed or removed.

However, 29.4 percent remain ‘unsure’ when they would take interstate holidays, even if restrictions relax.


The survey results also drilled into what types of activities tourists plan to engage in, and it showed a sharp decline in people prepared to attend sporting events and cultural festivals/events (more than 20 percent), with drops also registered in tourist re-engagement of most other activities. The notable exception was that more tourists would be keen to engage in planned exercise when on holiday.

Changes in tourism transport choices showed expected growth in private car and campervan use for leisure journeys, but a sharp decline in all other forms of transport use (aircraft, mini-buses and coaches, taxis, public transport) and  especially cruise ships (by a whopping 57.1%).

Changes in accommodation choices will lead to a substantial growth in the use of personal properties for leisure, although guest houses and bed and breakfast accommodation also likely to become more popular.

The use of hotels, motels and resorts is expected to remain stable, but more than 42 percent said they would avoid backpacker hostels.

The full report will be available from Flinders University on August 21, 2020.


THE FINANCIAL assistance package for Gold Coast theme parks will allow Ardent Leisure to implement the staged re-opening of Dreamworld and WhiteWater World, with both parks expected to re-open in mid-September, ahead of the school holiday period.

The support package was jointly announced this week by Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk and State Development, Tourism and Innovation Minister, Kate Jones.

“We appreciate the Queensland Government’s strong recognition of the important role that the theme park industry plays in the economic development of Queensland and the broader tourism industry in Australia," Ardent Leisure Theme Parks and Attractions chief executive officer, John Osborne said. 

"The Queensland Government’s foresight in providing this financial assistance package will enable Ardent to re-open its iconic theme parks, continue to employ hundreds of people and continue to invest in future tourism infrastructure and create more local jobs.

“We are very excited about welcoming back our valued team members and loyal guests and have already commenced preparations for the re-opening of our parks, including the implementation of our Queensland Health approved COVID SAFE Plan.” 

The September re-opening date for Dreamworld and WhiteWater World will be confirmed over the next week.



By Leon Gettler >>

THERE IS no doubt 2020 has been a difficult year for Australia’s hotel industry. With air travel and tourism stopping because of COVID-19, revenue has crashed and many hotels face going out of business.

On the other hand, hotels are working closely with the government in areas such as quarantine. Eventually, the economy will re-open and hotels will be back in business again.

Dean Long, the CEO of the Accommodation Association of Australia, the peak industry body representing close to 3500 hotels and nearly 58,000 employees across the country, said it had been a key year of learnings for the industry and government. 

He said the industry had been absolutely devastated with revenues falling 75 percent and 85 percent across the city and regional areas. In a space of four weeks, it had gone from occupancy rates of 90 percent to below 10 percent.


The industry is now providing the space for self-isolation for incoming travellers and some front-line workers.

“One of the things as an industry we’re proud of is that when we were asked to step up to help healthcare workers stay safe to support their families and also to keep the community safe at the request of government, we were able to provide facilities that enabled that protection to take place,” Mr Long told Talking Business.

He said it had been disappointing to see some of the lapses in government processes in Victoria, but in every other jurisdiction it had worked well.

While other states had used defence force personnel and the police, Victoria had chosen to employ private security guards which appears to have been a source of the outbreak in the state. He said the industry was now looking forward to the findings of the judicial inquiry into the employment of private security guards.

Mr Long said the hotels had provided the governments around Australia with the hotels and had ensured staff were trained in areas like fire protection procedures and evacuation procedures and were there to support the check in processes of the people that were going through the self-isolation.

“What it showed was that in seven of the eight jurisdictions, it worked really well, and I think for the overwhelming majority of cases in Victoria, it also worked very well,” Mr Long said.

He said nobody had gone into the self-isolation process with any bad intentions.

“This isn’t a witch hunt,” Mr Long said. “We need to get to the bottom of what happened so if it does happen again, we know exactly what went wrong so we don’t make the same mistakes again,”

 “And that goes on both sides of the equation. The hotel industry will be far more stringent in what they request of the government in their processes and systems and I think government will be very clear and very certain to not make the same mistakes that have been made to date.”


Mr Long said the hotels had also implemented safe guidelines for their staff, setting out how to interact in these environments, from the front of the house to those cleaning the rooms and making sure they have the right personal protective equipment (PPE).

All the hotels had increased their cleaning standards and number of times rooms were inspected. He said this would be ongoing.

“What travellers are looking for is a safe, secure tourism experience,” Mr Long said.

He expected hotels would emerge from this period with a greater investment in technology.

“People are going to be much more comfortable with the idea of using their phone to access their room, the ability to self-manage your accounts and interact with a light touch with a number of employees,” Mr Long said. 

“I’m expecting that technology investment to drive some increasing ease of access to hotel facilities and I think consumers are really going to gel with that.”

Mr Long sees a 50-60 percent recovery in the hotel industry towards the end of 2020-21.

Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at  


AUSTRALIANS are being urged to help bring a vital boost to the tourism industry by taking a holiday at home this year, but the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) has warned it could hardly become a simple fix for the country's tourism businesses.

“While the government is doing the right thing in urging Australians to spend their holiday savings at home this year, the idea that it can somehow replace the income the industry derives from international visitors is unrealistic,” ATEC managing director Peter Shelley said.

“Domestic holidays can and will help many Australian tourism businesses, particularly those set up specifically for local visitors, but for those who have strongly invested in the inbound market or who have a business set up purely to service the international visitors, domestic travellers just won’t generate the same income.

“Our research has shown that a third of tourism businesses will not benefit from the domestic tourism market with more than half of businesses expecting to not be viable within six months without international visitors," he said. 

“This is hardly surprising given the average spend of an international visitor is $5,211. It’s just not feasible to think most Australians would spend that amount of money on a domestic holiday in order to make up a $45 billion shortfall."

Mr Shelley said expectations on the travel budget capacity of our domestic market are unrealistic given diminished consumer confidence, perceived economic insecurity and disrupted leave entitlements experienced by many Australians this year. 

“We have already seen some tourism products adjusting their pricing to encourage locals to get involved, but this price reduction is often being massively and unsustainably subsidised and not delivering any real profits to the business.

“Many other tourism businesses are just not able to ‘pivot’ to the domestic market.  They are either exclusively focused on international visitors - like inbound tour operators who build itineraries for international travellers and support and service them during their stay, or tourism businesses which have invested in designing products to appeal to particular international markets.

“Our export tourism industry has been an enormous success and has delivered double digit growth for much of the last decade.  What's important now is that we preserve the export tourism businesses which will form the foundation of our rebuilding so we can reignite that successful growth once international borders are open.

“In truth, there will be very few export tourism businesses who will benefit significantly from a domestic uptick and they definitely won’t be looking at the level of revenue our inbound sector has delivered in the past.

“While we encourage Australians to get out and see Australia, we need to recognise there are some valuable and otherwise viable businesses which will need Government support in order to make it through this long period of hibernation.

“ATEC is currently in discussions with the industry and Government agencies to negotiate an extension of industry support to ensure we protect this important part of our tourism eco structure and help build a plan to successfully drag our tourism industry out of this huge dark hole.”


QUEENSLAND Treasurer Cameron Dick has formally announced that Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre (BCEC) will re-open in August 2020, with Queensland Health approving the centre's Site Specific COVID Safe Plan.

Mr Dick called the re-opening of BCEC i"a significant milestone for Queensland".

"As we unite and recover from the pandemic, it's cause for celebration that we can welcome staff and visitors back to this outstanding venue," Mr Dick said.
BCEC general manager, Bob O’Keeffe said the centre's plan is integrated with VenueShield, a new environmental hygiene protocol developed by BCEC’s parent group, ASM Global and rolled out at ASM Global’s 325 venues worldwide. VenueShield provides the most advanced hygiene safeguards and exceeds current regulations, according to Mr O'Keeffe. 
To develop the comprehensive new protocols, ASM Global engaged its in-house executive teams including BCEC and distilled the expertise from across its global network of venues spanning stadia, arenas, theatres, convention and exhibition centres, including the Asia Pacific region. 
The centre is planning to host its first events from August 2020, with the health and wellbeing of clients, patrons and staff given top priority.
A newly developed BCEC Safe Event Guideline has been prepared and will assist clients in planning their events at the Centre and encompasses all the necessary health and hygiene safeguards, food safety measures and social distancing required under the current opening conditions. The Guideline is designed to ensure the safe hosting of events, providing reassurance and confidence for the Centre’s patrons and staff.
With a total of 44 meeting rooms and event spaces, as a venue BCEC is able to provide the additional space that is required to accommodate current social distancing regulations for events of all sizes. The Centre has flexible and adaptable spaces, floor plans and capacities to satisfy all required protocols.
Mr O’Keeffe said, "It is yet another sign of green shoots in the recovery of the business events industry. 

“BCEC drives almost 70 percent of Brisbane’s business events room nights and we are looking forward to welcoming events back to the centre and doing what we do best, attracting much sought-after and high yield business events to Brisbane and Queensland.”


DREAMWORLD, the multi-faceted theme park on Queensland's Gold Coast, has welcomed the immediate release of $11 million from the Queensland Government’s $50 million Tourism support package.

The funds, announced by Premier Annastacia Palasczuk and TourismMinister Kate Jones today, would "help support our iconic theme parks which are important destinations and drivers for the Queensland economy" a Dreamworld spokesperson said.

“There is no doubt the past few months have been incredibly difficult for many industries and businesses," Dreamworld chief executive officer, John Osborne said.

"The tourism industry on the Gold Coast has been impacted more than most. Theme parks are an important part of the tourism industry and are a key economic driver for many small businesses in the region. 

"We welcome the support announced by the Premier and Minister Kate Jones today as it will reduce our cash burn while we work with the Queensland Government to finalise a date that we can viably re-open,” Mr Osborne said.

“We are pleased the government has recognised the significant role our Parks play in the economy and Dreamworld looks forward to working with the government to understand more details to ensure our businesses recover, unite and grow stronger post COVID-19."

Australian owned and operated, Dreamworld is Australia’s biggest theme park, home to more than 40 rides, waterslides and attractions including Tiger Island, DreamWorks Experience, ABC KIDS World, Dreamworld Corroboree and wildlife precinct and WhiteWater World.


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