In 2022, some of the best hotels in Australia aren’t hotels at all.
TripAdvisor’s annual Travellers’ Choice awards naming the 10 best hotels in Australia featured no less than three motels this year as driving holidays come back into fashion.
Dubbo’s Orana Motel in New South Wales beat out hundreds of properties to rank number three on travelers’ picks list, with Brisbane’s Kingsford Smith Motel and Bendigo’s Julie-Anna Inn ranking fourth and sixth.
South Australia’s Lookout Cave Underground Motel was also honored in a new global category, “Out of the Ordinary Hotels”.
TripAdvisor compiles its rankings using an algorithm that weights traveler ratings and reviews over a 12-month period.
The results reveal a shift from the 2021 trend towards serviced apartments.
Sarah Mathews, TripAdvisor’s director of APAC media partnerships, said the pivot to roadside lodging signals renewed confidence in regional travel.
“At the height of the pandemic, we know consumers were focused on staying in bubbles, so self-contained, self-contained accommodations like serviced apartments grew in popularity,” Mathews said.
Now that travel restrictions have been lifted, a motel renaissance is underway.
“Travellers are slightly less concerned with health and hygiene factors, focusing instead on exploring new places and returning. Whether it’s road trips or longer multi-city trips to destinations further afield, Australia’s amazing motels are the beneficiaries of this trend.”
Tourism Accommodation Australia CEO Michael Johnson said a boon to domestic travel, combined with a reluctance to travel overseas, is also fueling the rise of the Australian motel.
“Regional locations in every state and territory are being explored. And so these motels that have traditionally been 55% occupancy year-over-year are actually having some of the best business years they’ve ever had, especially in these past 12 months,” Johnson said.
“The motel industry has done very hard, so I think they are now in this recovery phase, but there are certainly a lot of green shoots, and they appreciate this return to business as usual and, more , better than it was before.”
Kristyn Slattery, co-owner of Julie-Anna Inn Bendigo, said factors such as personalized service and minimal contact with other guests – thanks to the direct entrance from the parking lot – have given the motels an edge in the market.
“There has been a shift in the appreciation of what a motel offers, versus a hotel with elevators and hallways, in the current COVID climate,” Slattery said.
“We’re lucky to have sliding glass doors and security screens in every room, so we can get a lot of fresh air in, which is another reason I think we’ve done so well at getting out of the COVID travel crisis.”
A slate of regional events is also fueling the return of the Great Australian Road Trip, with sporting, arts and culinary events attracting visitors from all states.
“Graceland’s Elvis Direct exhibit is running at the Bendigo Art Gallery until July 17, so we are seeing a significant increase in leisure travel at this time,” Slattery said.
“That’s what hurt the most during COVID, a lot of events couldn’t take place. This weekend there are three or four events going on, and accommodation is at capacity .”
Additionally, an increasingly competitive motel market is seeing many operators up their game.
General manager and co-owner of the Lookout Cave Underground Motel in Coober Pedy, Sami Kambouris, said platforms like Airbnb have forced motel operators to raise the bar.
“It kicked the rear of many operators who had become complacent, and many tourism industry bodies helped kick-start regional accommodation providers to renovate or rebuild with grants, support and much-needed funding,” Kambouris said.
Fierce competition has led some Australian motels to embrace their cultural cringe and low-block functional design with a retro revamp.
Kambouris, which acquired the subterranean outback motel in 2010, ditched the fashionable procession of decorative flamingos and mid-century furnishings for a revamp true to its opal mining roots.
“We were new to the game and just saw a motel ready for renovation,” Kambouris said of the unconventional site, carved into the sandstone foothills.
“Although it was long, difficult and expensive, the rewards were outstanding. When you know you have improved someone’s vacation or experience, you cannot express that satisfaction in words.”
The 10 best hotels in Australia according to TripAdvisor
- Mount Lofty House Adelaide Hills – Adelaide Hills, South Australia
- Treasury on Collins – Melbourne, Victoria
- Orana Motel – Dubbo, New South Wales
- Kingsford Smith Motel – Brisbane, QLD
- Quest South Perth Foreshore – South Perth, Western Australia
- Julie-Anna Inn, Bendigo – Bendigo, Victoria
- Element on Coolum Beach – Coolum Beach, Queensland
- COMO The Treasury – Perth, Western Australia
- Pinetrees Lodge – Lord Howe Island
- The Reef House Boutique Hotel & Spa – Palm Cove, Queensland