The Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific Sydney is part of an innovative holiday ownership club belonging to Asia Pacific’s leading vacation ownership company with more than 19 properties in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. Its parent company, Wyndham Vacation Ownership, helps extend the club’s range by providing owners with access to resorts across the United States, Canada and even Mexico.
Instead of the more traditional timeshare deals, owners buy holiday credits, which they can then use as a form of holiday currency. The more holiday credits you own, the more days of the year you can holiday at the various locations on offer.
Obviously, the success of a business like this depends largely on the number and type of locations on offer to potential clients. Until recently, there was no Sydney CBD property in the portfolio – a
situation the Wyndham group was very keen to remedy – even if it meant going through a major refurbishment project to get the right kind of hotel in exactly the right location.
Re-branded in 2007, Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific Sydney stands on the corner of Wentworth Ave and Goulburn St within very easy reach of the CBD and restaurant districts. “It’s all about giving our owners options,” said Stuart Sanford, senior manager for operations and development. “This is a site that gives owners an excellent position in Sydney. It is in a prime spot in the CBD and is within walking distance to many restaurants,” he said.
When the company took over the property (formerly the Southern Cross Suites) the building was fairly run down. In order to bring it up to the exacting Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific standard and give it their signature ‘home away from home’ feel, extensive refurbishments were carried out. As with all projects of this scale, some aspects of the work ran more smoothly than others. No one knows that better than project manager Nicholas Brady of Lipman Pty who was responsible for over-seeing the whole refurbishment from start to finish. In fact, you could almost say he was involved before the start.
“When we were first called in, the building was a dilapidated apartment block that was still operating as a hotel. There were significant problems and we were appointed to investigate some water leaks and then refurbish two units as a prototype to see what we could do with them,” he said. “We were told about the grand plan for this to be turned into the flagship Sydney property but before that could happen we needed to find out the full extent of the issues.”
Once the building was deemed structurally sound, to begin with just one two-bedroom apartment was fitted out as an example. “We started with one unit on level one and basically we gutted it and fitted it back out with new finishes, new tiling, new lights. We also put in some dividing sliding doors just to make it a little bit different,” Mr Brady said.
When this met the Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific seal of approval, the team completed the whole of the first floor, and then started on a process of refurbishment throughout the entire hotel. “The methodology and hours of works was carefully developed and agreed with the hotel manager, with the construction process staged to ensure that no more than three floors (maximum 27 units) were offline at any given time,” said Stuart Sanford.
Nicholas Brady said the lower floors were fitted with standard rooms, the next three with deluxe rooms, while the top was reserved for the exclusive penthouse suites. “On level 17 we put an additional room and external entertainment area on one penthouse. There was a balcony not being used so we turned it into a big bedroom with outside spa and it is now the presidential suite,” he said.
New light fittings including energy efficient down lights were fitted into all rooms, while deluxe rooms received surround sound and plasma screens and the penthouse of course got the very best of everything.
During the construction work Mr Brady and his team installed a new emergency warning intercom system (EWIS) into the building. “The old system wasn’t quite compliant with today’s codes, but the existing one had to be kept in place until we were ready to cut into the new one. Otherwise the hotel would not have complied with the regulations,” he said.
Mr Brady said the biggest problem with such a major refurbishment was finding things that should have been done right the first time but were not. “Until you have actually exposed a problem you don’t realise things haven’t been done properly in the original construction. We had some problems with the fire rating and we had to rework all the fire sealing between the rooms. The situation got progressively worse going up the building so we had to go back and audit through all the rooms to work out the full extent of the problem,” said Mr Brady. “If we had found that two weeks earlier it would have been easier but luckily we caught it just in time so it wasn’t too bad.”
Another major construction hurdle came in the form of the hotel foyer. The entire lobby area was in need of a substantial upgrade and the best solution was to construct a temporary foyer and reception while the original one was refurbished. The staging allowed full access to the lifts (located in the original foyer area) to prevent any disruptions to the hotel guests and staff.
Nicholas Brady explained that while constructing a temporary foyer might sound expensive, at only $20,000 it was nothing compared to the loss of revenue on 127 rooms. “Refurbishing the foyer would have taken three to four weeks, so that’s how long the hotel would have had to close,” he said. “We just had to put up some temporary walls and corridors for people to come from the lifts.
“The hotel has a café just near the foyer and we converted that into a temporary reception while we ripped apart the old one. We made a new counter with a basic paint finish so it was functional and had to take the Internet lines and EFTpos lines to that area,” he explained.
Mr Brady said you can work around pretty much anything these days. “It obviously comes down to cost. It would have been more efficient to have the hotel totally unoccupied rather than doing it on a rolling basis, it costs a bit more to stagger the upgrade,” he said. But when you take into account the increased revenue by leaving the majority of the hotel functioning normally, the financial decision is easy.
The interior design aspect of the refurbishment was done externally and reviewed in-house.
Stuart Sanford explained that he looks for value for money, something that is aesthetically pleasing and has a life of at least five years. “Part of the Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific constitution states that all rooms will go through a refurbishment process every five years. That’s one of our guarantees that help make our club more attractive, people know the rooms will always look fresh not tired,” he said. “We’re always looking to do something new and different, and every five years we get that option.”
Externally the refurbishment proved to be as big a challenge as the inside, as Nicholas Brady explained. “We had to upgrade the external finish of the building. The original was a mismatch of paint with yellow, blue and orange. The problem was that the hotel is a 25-storey building on a corner with three road frontages. To put scaffold up would have cost between $300,000 and $400,000,” he said.
“The building also has awnings and sunshades so it was quite difficult to engineer a solution but in the end we came up with a smart way of doing it. For only $50,000 we put in a system of swinging stages.”
This allowed the team to apply the new uniform colour scheme of light blue. “Most buildings these days put in a maintenance system that will allow you to do external painting work, but when this hotel was built no thought was put into that,” he said.
Altogether the project took nearly three years to complete. Work commenced on 24 October 2005 and reached final completion on 18 June 2008. It has succeeded in providing a flagship resort in Sydney offering Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific owners a variety of accommodation options ranging from standard and deluxe to executive to penthouse suites and apartments. The hotel is also opened direct to the public, should its rooms not be required by owners.
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