Case Study: Novotel Oasis Cairns

Now fully open after its $7 million refurbishment, the Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort has a completely new image and offers its guests the latest in modern styling but with a relaxed, plantation style to furniture and fittings, in keeping with the tropical climate. Despite the fact that $7 million sounds like a large budget, when spread over the 314 rooms plus lobby, restaurant and bar, the architect and project manager from Watermark Architecture & Interiors said, “Everything was done on a shoestring, we were very cost effective.”

In addition to a complete refurbishment of all the existing buildings, new conference and meeting rooms were built. It was a long process as one-by-one, each of the four main buildings was closed off and the work was completed.


The lifts needed to be refurbished as well and to do this the builders had to work around the guests. In Cairns, most guests leave early in the morning to go out on the reef, so noisy work was able to be largely done during the day. The massive lobby however, needed to be worked on in about seven stages to allow guests to be inconvenienced as little as possible.

Watermark Architecture and Interiors explained the process.

“The aim of the refurbishment was to reinvent a tired, under-performing hotel and re-launch it. Accor was brought on board to operate the hotel as a Novotel. The new meeting spaces have been accommodated in line with the brand’s Meet @ Novotel concept.

“The hotel had suffered as a result of the climate in Cairns with many of the rooms having significant issues with mould and humidity. The package unit air conditioners are being progressively replaced and we have installed fully tiled floors to all of the ground floor rooms to alleviate this problem. The previous design was also firmly rooted in the 1990s with starfish motifs and brightly coloured and patterned fabrics a feature of the hotel.”

Given the dated look of some of the furnishings and fittings, it was quite obvious what needed to be changed. However, Watermark Architecture & Interiors maintains that the hotel “had quite good bones” and an overall “beautiful design” with its location nestled in the award-winning 2ha of tropical gardens and overlooking the stunning central pool.

Watermark Architecture & Interiors wanted to build on the relaxed, plantation feel of the hotel and so they chose to use “natural timbers, wicker and a neutral colour scheme throughout the hotel”. Natural materials such as wool carpets, timber veneer, cotton and linen fabrics have been used in the guest rooms to provide a relaxed sophistication.

“The room artwork was custom designed for the hotel using photographs of the tropical beach and flora taken by Marcus Clinton. These were printed onto canvas and mounted unframed onto the walls. This provides a local context for the hotel.”

The colour scheme chosen was neutral and natural with accent colour being added with art work and soft furnishings that can be changed easily should the hotel need a lift in a few years time. In terms of all of the guest rooms it has been a case of completely gutting the rooms and replacing everything. As Watermark Architecture & Interiors explained, “All furniture and soft furnishings have been replaced, case goods, televisions, shower heads, shower curtains, mirrors, wardrobe doors and hair dryers.”

Accor-standard bedding was chosen in line with their brand standards. The beds were supplied by Dunlop Pacific. These have been made up as triple-sheeted. Watermark Architecture & Interiors explained how this works.

“This means that they use three sheets to make up the bed; one over the mattress, one under the blanket and one over the top. This makes the bed look smart and inviting and gives guests the comfort of sleeping under blankets instead of a doona. A feature bed throw sits across the bottom of the bed to keep the sheets clean and add a splash of colour to the room.

“Televisions were replaced with new 66cm NEC LCD screens from Retravision Cairns. These televisions were selected as they have a proven track record in hotels and are compatible with the hotel’s movielink system. The flat screen has been wall mounted to provide more usable desk space within the rooms.”

When it came to the bathrooms it was important to choose the right shower head.

“We replaced the shower heads in the bathrooms with hand showers on a sliding wall bar. Height adjustability and two spray variations enable the guest to choose the shower experience they want; either the revitalising massage spray or invigorating needle spray.

We chose the HANSA Ecojet, as it is Water Efficiency Labelling Standards certified and comes with a three-star rating with water consumption of less than 9 l/min.”

The exterior painting of the complex was completed by Programmed Maintenance Services that entered into a six-year maintenance agreement with the resort. Simon Wilson from PMS said this enabled the resort to receive a full exterior re-paint of nominated surfaces in year one followed by annual washing and maintenance painting for the duration of the agreement.


Watermark Architecture & Interiors were an enthusiastic advocate of this system because it allowed a repaint of the exterior of the resort that was not included in the original budget.

Responsible for managing the whole project was Daniel Morgan of Isis Hotels. By far the biggest challenge from his point of view was the renovation of the large public areas like the lobby where each day the builders had to move around a seven-stage hoarding.

“We had to adjust the hoardings according to the guest’s needs,” says Daniel.

“The biggest key was continual communication with the general manager of the hotel on a daily basis. When they had conferences and large bookings, we just worked around that.

“The rooms had the right effect but the main foyer leading into the bar, lobby and the restaurant have the best ‘wow’ effect. The most rewarding part is the end product, to see it slowly evolving to the new and clean finishes and seeing everything finished off. It’s a lot of work up front, but right at the end you see the finished product and that’s the biggest reward.”

The general manager of the hotel, Greg Irwin has been delighted with the results of the refurbishment. Guest feedback has been “absolutely fabulous”.

“There were comments before that it was a fairly 90s style, whereas now it’s totally modern,” said Greg.

“With these situations, you always face some challenges and one of those is the co-ordination of all the trades so they go in on time. The project has gone incredibly well with both Isis Hotels, the project managers and Watermark. We’ve gone a bit over budget but that was with choices we made along the way.”

The Novotel’s location, just 100m from the centre of Cairns, is definitely an advantage when considered along with its resort feel. Guests are able to stay within easy strolling distance of the heart of the city but at the same time swim up to the Sand Bar and order cocktails and snacks. It’s a winning combination that has just become infinitely better.

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