Hotel revival taking longer

DELAYED: The Novotel hotel is now due to open in the third quarter of 2013.
DELAYED: The Novotel hotel is now due to open in the third quarter of 2013.

Reopening dates for properties in the central city continue to be pushed back, a major hotel is for sale, and international hoteliers are hunting for land to build on.

Those in the industry are now examining the city's recovery and what it means for them.

The Novotel off Cathedral Square has delayed its opening until September 4 next year, and other hotels in the area have also postponed first bookings.

One weighing up what the future holds is Peter Knight, the longtime operator of the Latimer Hotel, which is now being rebuilt. He says there have been approaches from international hotels, and it might well be a good time for him to sell.

The Singaporean directors of the company behind the demolished Hotel Grand Chancellor are also examining whether to rebuild, and will fly to New Zealand later this month to discuss options.

Some in the industry suggest it will be a long haul back for still cordoned-off central city accommodation, hampered by unknowns in the Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) city blueprint and council plans.

These include how the convention centre precinct will evolve, the survival of the Town Hall and its impact on the evolution of nearby blocks surrounding Victoria Square.

Talks between insurers and hotel property owners are far from finalised, and some hoteliers remain wary about commenting on the future of properties they have managed.

More certain than some about the future of its properties is the French Accor chain.

It reopened its Ibis Christchurch hotel on September 4 this year, the two-year anniversary of the first Canterbury earthquake.

The Ibis has been a major confidence boost for the sector, shaken to its knees since the February 22, 2011, shock.

Accor Asia Pacific spokesman Peter Hook says the Ibis and the Novotel hotels are now being promoted through European trade shows, including an upcoming March ITB travel expo in Berlin, the world's biggest.

That expo hosts tens of thousands of people and there would be a natural curiosity about Christchurch, he says.

The Novotel hotel in Cathedral Square has a multimillion-dollar repair job under way.

The reopening could happen before September 4 next year but that date is important as an anniversary of the first quake, Hook says.

The Ibis on Hereford St has proven more than viable in the two months since opening, hotel manager Tim Dearsley says.

"Our first month's occupancy was on par at 46 per cent, but the second month grew to around 70 per cent, with groups and leisure guests joining the business travellers," Dearsley says.

By the time of the planned reopening of the Novotel in September there will be significant demand by large international groups, with some arriving or due from AAT Kings and Contiki operators.

Hook says decisions are still to be made around the chain's All Seasons Hotel in Cashel St formerly owned by property developer David Henderson and called Hotel So, and also at the All Seasons hotel in Papanui Rd.

"The things that we have learned that initial ideas of being able to get properties back in operation have generally taken longer than we expected," he says.

Ernest Duval, owner of the 22-storey Pacific Tower, home of the Rendezvous Hotel, says he is still pushing for a reopening about February 22 next year, the second anniversary of the most damaging quake.

Repairs included replacing some of the stressed steel links in the structure. The contractor reports they are on track for a handover of the hotel to the Rendezvous owners on or before February 22.

"They are working extended hours seven days a week and have managed to stay ahead of programme with the link replacement and exterior painting," Duval says.

Rendezvous Hotel general manager Brad Watts has been working in China for the hotel chain. He says he recently met in Shanghai with agents from Taiwan who are keen to see more hotels open again in Christchurch, mainly because many international departure flights leave Christchurch early in the morning.

Bruce Garrett, Tourism Industry Association regional chairman, hotels, says that though there have been delays, and talks with some property owners and insurers are ongoing, he sees a healthy future for the hotel industry if reopenings are staged.

Before the earthquakes were about 3800 rooms were available in Christchurch but that number has been reduced to 1000 or so. New projects include the 140-room Latimer, off Latimer Square, and a 20-room extension at the Copthorne Hotel Commodore near the airport.

"The demand's there. As the hotels reopen, I think we'll see people start to return. There's a lot of tour companies just waiting for hotels to open," Garrett says.

Knight says international hotel operators have approached him about the 4 1/2 -star Latimer Hotel which will be opening in a staged process during next year, first with a restaurant and conference facility due to open in April-May, then with rooms to open from June. The rest of the hotel rooms are due to be completed by the end of the year.

The Press