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Launch of Australian Airlines Asian services gives Cairns' hotels (Australia) a major boost

Travel News Asia 12 September 2002

After bearing the brunt of the tourism downturn caused by the collapse of Ansett Airlines and the airline crashes on September 11 in the USA, the Cairns-Far North Queensland region is set for an airline-induced tourism recovery. 

Far North Queensland's largest hotel group, Accor (operators of six Sofitel, Novotel, Mercure and All Seasons hotels in and around Cairns), are predicting a 40% increase in occupancy for the final quarter compared to the corresponding period in 2001.

Novotel Palm Cove Resort, just north of Cairns, saw occupancies slump to  as low as 44% for the month of January 2002, but already the resort holds 77% occupancy for January 2003, and it is likely to increase to 90%. Even this September, the hotel is expecting to close on an occupancy rate of 82% compared to 52% for September 2001, and the figures for October and November indicate similarly positive increases.

The principle cause for the optimism is the launch of Australian Airlines, with Cairns established as the base for its services to Asia.

Australian Airlines is using the Novotel Palm Cove Resort to house and train their new flight attendants. Eight groups of 48 trainees will stay at the 100 acre resort as they prepare to commence flights to Asia.

The first group of recruits is nearing the end of their training, which has included safety, first aid, protocol and cultural affairs. Training has also included awareness of Asian dishes and the new menus to be offered. The second group commences training next week.

One of the key Novotel employees involved in facilitating Australian Airlines is Novotel Palm Cove's Employee of the Year and Conference Facilitator, Kelvin Barton, who spent many years working for American Airlines in the 1960's, and who is sharing his wealth of knowledge with the fledgling recruits.

The new Australian Airlines plane will be unveiled at Sydney airport on Sunday night, and will be watched live, via a big screen by the new recruits poolside at Novotel Palm Cove. The plane then flies to Cairns airport on Monday morning, where the recruits will complete their on-board training.

Another Accor hotel that is anticipating considerable growth as a result of the introduction of Australian Airlines is the Sofitel Reef Casino Hotel.

The Sofitel has undertaken a major refurbishment to all its public areas and has opened a new Asian restaurant, named Tamarind, in anticipation of the inflow of international visitors from around the Asian region.

The optimism in Cairns and FNQ is reflected in development and infrastructure projects valued at $211 million dollars in and around the Cairns region.

The General Manager of the Novotel Palm Cove Resort, Buddy Byrd, said it was ironical that the same factor that caused the recession was now offering the region such hope.

"Far North Queensland relies almost totally on airlines for the health of  its tourism sector, and if tourism is affected, the whole economy suffers," he said.

"The first six months after September 11 were disastrous for business because the disruption was so extensive. The collapse of Ansett also meant the end of a local Star Alliance partner for carriers such as Air New Zealand and United Airlines, so it affected both domestic and international tourism. Then there was also the general business recession and difficult rural situation, so the decision by Australian Airlines to go ahead with their new service and base the operation out of Cairns was the fillip that the industry required.

"The enthusiasm of the recruits that we've seen here at the Novotel is very encouraging, because they will be great ambassadors for the region when the flights commence."

Accor had a further relationship with Australian Airlines through the Accor Services company, Davidson Trahaire. The company developed a recruitment model that helped Australian Airlines assess recruits for suitability as potential employees. The recruitment process had to be specialized as a large majority of the recruits were based in Cairns and FNQ, and did not have previous airline experience.

Accor is Australia's largest hotel group with 95 hotels. In the Cairns region, Accor operates the Sofitel Reef Casino Hotel, Novotel Palm Cove Resort, All Seasons Esplanade, All Seasons Sunshine Tower, Mercure Harbourside and Oasis Resort.

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