Open crowd caps give fans the advantage on accommodation

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This was published 4 months ago

Open crowd caps give fans the advantage on accommodation

By Elizabeth Redman

Tennis fans looking for last-minute accommodation are likely to find plenty of choice and perhaps a discount as the latest virus outbreak puts a cap on crowds.

The Australian Open traditionally draws visitors from interstate and overseas, plus a volley of support staff, many of whom stay in hotel rooms or short-term apartment rentals.

Crowds are capped at 50 per cent at this year’s Australian Open.

Crowds are capped at 50 per cent at this year’s Australian Open.Credit:Eddie Jim

This time round, bookings have been lower than pre-pandemic levels, amid a 50 per cent tennis crowd cap, the Omicron wave and an international border still closed to most tourists.

Hundreds of listings on short-stay rental platform Airbnb were still available on Thursday for the weekend in suburbs surrounding Melbourne Park, with a handful offering discounts. One two-bedroom unit advertised as “steps to Melbourne Park” was offering a two-night stay for $901, discounted from $1543, while another in South Yarra was asking $575 for two nights, down from $629.

Figures from short-stay data analytics firm AirDNA show a drop in demand from pre-pandemic levels.

The number of booked nights fell by at least 60 per cent in suburbs near the courts, including East Melbourne, Richmond, South Yarra and the CBD, for the period of January 1 to 17, compared to the corresponding period in 2020.

With tennis crowds lower than usual, accommodation nearby has opened up.

With tennis crowds lower than usual, accommodation nearby has opened up.Credit:Getty Images

Some landlords have taken their properties off the short-term rental market altogether, with a drop in available listings on the platform of between 43 and 64 per cent in the same neighbourhoods compared to two years ago.

But after so long without a holiday, “revenge spending” is kicking in and some guests are willing to pay for a larger or more luxurious pad. Average daily rates rose by up to 12 per cent in some of these suburbs and fell by only 2 per cent or less in others.

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Hotels have also been affected. Tourism Accommodation Australia (VIC) general manager Dougal Hollis said many city hotels expect to be 40 per cent full for January, compared to 76 per cent occupancy in January 2020 and 78 per cent in January 2019.

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He said major events are usually a great demand driver for Melbourne hotels, but this year face labour shortages, supply chain challenges, hesitancy about interstate travel amid the outbreak, and testing delays. His industry colleagues have seen higher-than-usual cancellations as guests isolate and are feeling the lack of international visitors to a tournament that is popular with sports fans overseas.

He’s optimistic to see an uptick in bookings on the weekends and for later in the tournament, and has also noticed a willingness for weekend travellers who haven’t been away from home for a while to spoil themselves and splurge on a suite.

“Because the Aussies are continuing to do well, Ash Barty, and [Nick] Kyrgios are doing well on the court, we’re seeing the second week bookings picking up as well,” he said, speaking before Kyrgios lost in the second round. The showman will still play in the doubles competition.

“People are saying, ‘If I’m not travelling internationally I’ll do some revenge spending locally’, whether that’s on a tourism experience or a new car or a house refurbishment.”

Australian Short-Term Rental Association director Pawan Sinha said short-stays enjoyed strong bookings in December and a good start to bookings for the tennis, but travellers began to cancel once Omicron hit.

Australian Short-Term Rental Association director Pawan Sinha.

Australian Short-Term Rental Association director Pawan Sinha.Credit:Stephen McKenzie

He manages 32 apartments in South Yarra convenient to the tennis and has previously hosted tennis players and support crew as well as travellers.

The units are now fetching $110 to $120 a night for a one-bedroom. Two years ago, it would have been $400 a night, he said.

“Everything is related to the virus, the density limit in the Australian Open,” he said.

“There’s no lockdown but people are not confident in going out of their home.”

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Airbnb declined to provide data about bookings through its platform. Airbnb country manager for Australia and New Zealand Susan Wheeldon said in an email that Airbnb hosts “provide variety and choice for guests, especially during large-scale events” and help spread the benefits of tourism to more communities.

Holiday rental platform Stayz has recorded 77 per cent of its holiday homes across Melbourne booked this week and 62 per cent for next week, the Finals week of the Open.

Stayz spokeswoman Simone Scoppa said in an email the outbreak had not had the impact they predicted, with some cancellations, but many travellers shifting their trip to another date.

Sister site Wotif has recorded an increase in interest for hotel bookings of about 30 per cent for dates during the tennis in suburbs near the courts.

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