Case Studies

Case Study: Rydges Plaza Cairns

The recently completed refurbishment at Rydges Plaza Cairns has produced a fun, fresh and versatile space where the chic new Lilo bar merges seamlessly with modern, comfortable lounge areas and spacious poolside cabanas. The refurbishment on the third and fourth floors has transformed the bar and restaurant area into a space offering diverse entertaining options that can be used in a number of different configurations.

General manager Michael Smith says the architectural changes to the third floor area were designed to effectively integrate the bar area with the pool on the fourth floor. There is a new water-feature wall in the pool area and seamless glass fencing around the pool has been used to complete the indoor/outdoor feel.

“The idea of the indoor/outdoor area and the integrated pool and bar space is to achieve a meeting place unique to Cairns where locals and holidaymakers can mix with corporate clients in a relaxed, tropical atmosphere,” Michael explains.

The area now features six lounge and dining options that can be used for a variety of functions. “The Lilo bar area is a versatile space that can be used for different functions, such as weddings and birthdays, as well as live entertainment,” Michael says. “The idea is to make the Lilo bar Cairns’ premier meeting place, with a focus on Friday afternoon and evening entertainment for locals and guests. Its image is that of a chic and fun place,” he says.


The new deck area has a bright, modern look.

Guests stroll up to the fourth floor roof-top pool and surrounding cabanas from the Lilo bar using the brand new decked walkway. The decking is made of ModWood, which is a composite building product made from recycled wood and plastic, that gives it good moisture resistance. In addition, ModWood does not need to be oiled, painted or stained and does not splinter, so it is ideal for hotels. The refurbishment has made extensive use of the decking product in the pool and outdoor lounge areas.

The area’s landscaping also had a makeover, with tiled areas replaced by decking and the gardens now give a more spacious feeling, with old large pots and thick hedges removed and replaced with uncluttered garden areas containing plants better suited to Far North Queensland’s climate. “It was important that we utilised products and plants that were available in Far North Queensland and suited to the climate,” Michael says. “The gardens are now well landscaped to be more spacious and practical.”

The main reason for the refurbishment project at the Rydges Plaza Cairns was to reposition the hotel as a corporate meeting place. To this end, the two conference rooms on the third floor were included in the refurbishment, receiving new ceilings, paint, lighting and floor coverings. The conference rooms can cater for up to 250 people and both rooms have breakout areas leading onto the decked terraces.


The newly refurbished Lilo bar has a chic, intimate feel.

The Lilo bar is located adjacent to the hotel’s conference rooms, so it made sense to revamp the whole area. Furniture in the Lilo bar was replaced with modern lounges and chairs in bright, fun colours. These also match the day-beds in the cabanas. The materials were selected to be hard wearing, easy to maintain and they are kept outdoors yet under cover to prevent fading.

The floor coverings in the Lilo bar are also new, using hardwearing Bolon woven vinyl flooring, which is tough and stain-resistant. Bolon is a Scandanavian flat-woven floor covering that is impervious to water and also resistant to stains from pool chlorine. It was sourced and supplied by the Andrews Group. It is important to use a suitable floor covering in humid areas as synthetic sisals such as Bolon don’t warp or suffer from mildew.

The laminated front of the bar itself was recovered with hardwood and new down-lighting was installed to give an intimate yet welcoming feeling. “The bar and restaurant area was looking old and tired, and needed a freshen-up,” Michael explains. The Lilo bar project was managed by Amalgamated Holdings Ltd and the architects were Hunt Design.

The Lilo bar and lounge area has also had a complete sound system upgrade as part of the refurbishment, with a first-class, quality sound system and four flat-screen televisions installed. The electrical installation and set-up of the sound system was undertaken by local business, Cairns Hi-Fi. Proprietor Tony Beer says a “seamless flow of high quality, rich-sounding music” now flows throughout the seven indoor and outdoor zones. “We used Bose speakers primarily for their articulate, intelligible reproduction of music and their famous reliability,” Tony says. “Cairns Hi-Fi has been supplying similar venues for around 25 years and understands what is involved and required. We congratulate Rydges Plaza Cairns on its recent renovation of the Lilo bar; making it one of the nicest places to have a drink and a meal in Cairns.”

The bar opened for business in February with the official opening taking place in the near future. A few additional finishing touches such as outdoor signage were added in May. The new amenities are designed to promote the hotel to business clients and attract repeat business. “The hotel is in the heart of the Cairns CBD and we needed to make changes to the image and decor of the building to bring back corporate clients. Key factors to attracting and retaining corporate guests are providing the right facilities for business people, and a good night’s sleep,” Michael says.


Before refurbishment the terrace was cluttered and dated.

The hotel’s 101 rooms were refurbished about 18 months ago and bathrooms were also refurbished on two floors. Each room has a multi-media wall featuring flat-screen televisions and data ports. Following the refurbishment, high-speed broadband and cable television were made available in all rooms.

The bedrooms have luxurious Rydges’ Dream Beds that are the group’s own product, manufactured in Australia with a quality base and a ‘no need to turn’ latex mattress. Beds are presented with triple-sheeting. “A great sleep, a good shower and a room with connectivity made easy are high priorities for corporate guests,” Michael says. Michael also believes that breakfast is important to corporate clients and this is something that can be promoted and offered as part of a package to be competitive in the market for business clients.

Michael says the main challenge of undertaking the refurbishment was the timing. It started in October 2009 and ended in March this year. This meant that the majority of the work had to take place in the far north’s wet season that presented a few logistical problems. “It was a tough project and some deliveries were delayed and some outdoor work had to be put back,” Michael explains.

“However, the refurbishment has now been completed and guests can enjoy the new entertainment facilities during the peak tourist season.” As with all refurbishments it was important to ensure there was the least amount of disruption for guests. Reduced rates on breakfast and room services were offered while the restaurant area was undergoing improvements. “It was important to manage the refurbishments to the public areas with the least amount of disruption,” Michael explains. “This was done by firstly refurbishing the conference rooms and then we temporarily moved the restaurant into the conference area.”

Rydges Plaza Cairns is well-situated for both business clients and travellers. It has a good relationship with the Cairns Convention Centre and is the closest hotel to the venue. It is also within easy walking distance to the Cairns Casino and the Esplanade is three blocks away.


The bedrooms were refurbished about 18 months ago to include media walls.

The hotel is about 30 years old and Michael Smith has worked there as general manager since December 2009. He has overseen the majority of the refurbishment to the Lilo bar area.

It is Michael’s second stint with the organisation and he previously worked for the Rydges group for 14 years in Canberra, Alice Springs, Queenstown and Christchurch.

The views from the fourth-floor pool area over Cairns city centre are stunning and interesting, with daily life playing out below and views of thickly forested mountains in the distance. Cafe China is located on the ground floor of the plaza complex and offers award-winning Peking and Cantonese cuisine. Other guest amenities include an air-conditioned business centre, 24-hour reception, room service, a babysitting service and in-room safes.

Have some refurbishments you would like to show off?
Email [email protected] or call (07) 5440 5322.

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