The hotel sector is at the forefront of a heritage redevelopment revival with historic buildings featuring prominently among locations for most recent and future openings. It comes at a time when about 150 new four- and five-star hotels – representing some 26,700 rooms – are set to open in coming years across Australia according to data from hospitality industry analysts Tophotelprojects.

Most of the 110 four and 41 five-star hotels in various stages of planning and development will be in Sydney and Melbourne, Sydney to welcome 18, followed by Melbourne with 16 and nine in Brisbane. Across the board, the data shows 28 hotels opening in the country this year, 48 next year, and 25 in 2024. Another 50 are forecast to welcome guests throughout 2025 and beyond.

Leading the way

The commercial property trend of heritage redevelopment, along with adaptive reuse of more modern yet dated buildings, has been embraced by many of the hospitality industry’s biggest names. Just this month one of the world’s largest luxury hotel operators Capella Hotels confirmed it will transform the renowned heritage-listed Department of Education building on Sydney’s Bridge Street into its debut Australian property Capella Sydney. Scheduled to open in March 2023, the hotel will retain the soaring ceilings and original aesthetic of the sandstone structure that was built in two phases between 1912 and 1915. The neighbouring and equally historic Department of Land building is also tipped to be part of the newly announced re-development.

Global hotel operator and market leader in the Asia Pacific, Accor, has 11 hotels set to open before December 2023. Its  most recent launched last week within Sydney’s heritage-listed 1870s-built Porter House. Known as The Porter House Hotel – M Gallery, the property marks Accor’s 400th hotel in 30 years. The building was commissioned in 1876 by then leading tobacco manufacturer, philanthropist and horticulturist Hugh Dixson and features Victorian designs such as iconic brick archways which its modern designers have referenced with contemporary curved windows. The property is connected to a state-of-the-art tower built around the original structure and the development also contains food and beverage outlets across several levels within the restored building.

Launching its 400th hotel within such an historic property was an ideal way to celebrate the landmark and recovery of the hotel industry said Accor Pacific CEO, Sarah Derry. “Sydney is experiencing its fastest growth since March 2020, with recovery in corporate, conference and events business, and continued strength in the domestic leisure market,” Ms Derry said. Accor will soon kick off another heritage restoration when it starts work on transforming the 1929-built former West End Hotel in Sydney’s Pitt Street into the Hotel Morris.

Regional growth

While capital cities are absorbing the bulk of heritage redevelopment hotel projects, the trend led to designer hotel brand QT Hotels opening its first property in a regional city after developers Iris Capital received the go ahead to reimagine the heritage-listed, 113-year-old former David Jones building on Newcastle’s Hunter Street. The striking property just metres from Newcastle Harbour opened mid-year and anchors Iris Capital’s $700 million overhaul of the city’s East End. Newcastle is renowned for its high volume of historically significant buildings and features one of the oldest theatre districts in the country.

Leading designer Nic Graham who collaborated with the QT design team on the hotel said the challenge was creating a modern hotel experience while remaining true to, and reinvigorating, the historic property.

“These sorts of projects are special as we are essentially breathing new life into an iconic heritage-listed building,” Mr Graham said. “So we approached the design with new beginnings and renewal at the forefront of our minds.

“We did this by respecting and maintaining the raw shell and laying contemporary life within. We created a cocooning interior through colour blocking and juxtaposing textures which evoke the history of Newcastle.

“The rooms also have great height so we were able to hero these stunning rejuvenated floor-to-ceiling windows. These sorts of features are all central to the theme of renewal which is felt throughout the hotel.”

Mr Graham said the aim was to for guests to see a “nod to Newcastle across all design elements” during their stay. “As a city built on the coal industry, we evoked this in the [rooms and suite’s] caged metal wardrobes and rust red minibars and furniture casters which are reminiscent of refineries. The foundation is set with black steel and woven metals and contrasts beautifully with luxurious sofas, textured furnishings and vibrant bed throws.” 

Up and coming

Other recent notable hotel openings within historic sites this year include the Hilton Melbourne Little Queen Street in May. The 224-room hotel is split between the elaborate heritage-listed Equity Chambers and a modern high-rise property. Heritage suites featuring timber panelling and velvet furnishings abound throughout the property which retains its old-school glamour inspired by Exotic Revival and Romanesque architecture. In Tasmania, Hobart will welcome The Tasman Hotel later this year which is to be housed within an historic hotel and a 1940s art deco building as well as a new glass pavilion.