Brisbane’s commercial sectors are showing renewed strength as the city leaves behind the effects of covid-19. This year the host city for the 2032 Olympics has streaked ahead of other capitals in terms of tourist visitation and office occupancy while other sectors chart notable improvements.

In the retail sector, foot traffic in the Brisbane city market is now close to 90% of pre-pandemic levels according to an Urban Economics report for the Committee for Brisbane released last month. Commercial health and vitality of the CBD and other major inner city areas South Brisbane, Fortitude Valley, Spring Hill and Woolloongabba is also inching closer to pre-pandemic levels, rating 5.7 out of 10 as opposed to pre-2020’s 6.8 in the survey.

Tourism, according to the report, is “significantly healthier and upbeat in comparison to previous years”. Brisbane’s visitor occupancy rates have soared past 70% for the first time in two years, while Sydney and Melbourne are averaging 10% to 15% lower.

Performing beyond expectations

At the CBD’s most recently opened hotels, Voco City Centre Brisbane and Hotel Indigo, business is outstripping management forecasts. Opened respectively in June and July 2022, the adjacent properties are centrally located by the Brisbane River. They represent the two most dynamic boutique brands operated by Pro-Invest Hotels, voco and Indigo renown for unique art-filled interiors featuring locally-inspired murals and lifestyle-driven elements as well as higher standards than similar level hotels.

“The Brisbane market has been performing beyond all our expectations,” said Shantha de Silva, Pro-invest Hotels’ chief operating officer. “In the past couple of months Brisbane had the strongest performing market of all the capital cities while in November we saw a surge of corporate travel. Now the bookings from February onward indicate that the convention market is coming back very strongly. We are very happy with the Brisbane market.”

Lifestyle + luxury = winner

In line with current hospitality industry trends aimed at appealing to investors as well as the travel market, both properties are refurbishments of existing hotels. They have also been repositioned under brands that offer not only a point of difference but complete departures from standard business-class hotel norms. The décor-driven Hotel Indigo for instance is entered through enormous red double doors to reveal an interior emblazoned with modern art and murals inspired by Brisbane’s past and present. The in-house restaurant is an upscale Japanese restaurant Izakaya Publico, barista coffee is served from the foyer’s tuk-tuk coffee cart while rooms are colourfully painted and thoughtfully appointed with designer touches - right down to a bespoke fold-out workstation-cum-dressing table, shaped like a briefcase attached to the wall. Voco, where most rooms offer panoramic views over the Brisbane River, is likewise appointed to appeal to both business and leisure travellers.

This lifestyle and luxury concept was one of hospitality’s fastest growing areas Mr de Silva said, forecast to grow 8% to 10% in the next 10 years. Pro-invest Hotels’ early venture into the sector with voco and Indigo had proved a hit with both business and leisure travellers whose greater-than-expected patronage of the affordably priced art hotels had seen returns “increase several fold”.

“We gave people a reason to stay here,” Mr de Silva explained. “Most three- or four-star hotels offer a business-like atmosphere, but it is unnecessary. The expectations of particularly the business traveller have changed. A hotel environment can inspire you… and especially if you’re in a creative business, like marketing or sales, you might just find something that clicks for you and inspires you to do something different. We are finding this is attracting the business traveller. Every part of the Hotel Indigo [for example] has a story and an element to surprise guests.”

Population on the rise

A leading driver of Brisbane’s revitalised hospitality sector has been the return of workers to its CBD. In The Property Council’s latest occupancy survey Brisbane experienced the largest increase with office occupancy levels jumping from 57% to 70%. This compared to Adelaide where occupancy rose from 71% to 78%, Perth, 69% to 76%, Melbourne, 39% to 41% and Sydney which remained steady at 52%. In Canberra occupancy dropped from 64% to 54%.

Population growth in Queensland has also gained speed since borders reopened. The state attracted a net 7035 people from interstate arrivals over the March 2021 quarter while NSW lost 4463 and Victoria, 4864. And since the 2016 census, there has been record growth of 36,00 employers and more than 16,500 additional residents move into inner-city Brisbane.