Arboretum hotel plans on ice after interest dries up in pandemic environment

Ian Bushnell 16 February 2021 20
National Arboretum Director Scott Saddler

National Arboretum Director Scott Saddler walking through the hotel site. Photo: File.

Plans for a proposed eco-hotel at the National Arboretum will have to go back to the drawing board after COVID-19 ruined the ACT Government’s pitch to national and international operators.

The government went to the market in October 2019 seeking a developer to design, build and operate the envisaged luxury accommodation complex among the trees.

Under National Capital Authority guidelines, the hotel, to be built on Forests 69 and 76 south of Dairy Farmers Hill, could be no taller than two storeys with environmentally sustainable buildings blended in with the landscape and existing Arboretum buildings.

It would include a maximum of only 40 rooms catering for about 100 guests, contained within Forest 69, currently radiata pine.

But any initial interest from five-star luxury brands disappeared once the pandemic hit, borders closed, international and domestic travel was disrupted and occupation rates plummeted.

It is believed the government will need to review the situation, devise a new pitch and again go to the market, but probably not until next year after the vaccine roll-out and hopefully, the pandemic has receded.

University of Canberra tourism expert Dr Naomi Dale said the hotel was still a good idea to pursue because, while the city may have new hotels coming online, few experience-based offerings take advantage of Canberra’s natural assets.

“This will add a bit more diversity to the types of places you can stay in,” she said.

Proposed hotel in Forests 76 and 69

A map of the site of the proposed hotel in Forests 76 and 69. Image: NCA.

Dr Dale said people were prepared to pay for experiences rather than properties, such as Jamala Lodge at the National Zoo and Aquarium.

A tastefully developed hotel at the Arboretum would attract a bigger share of regional NSW travellers and be a big selling point to the international market.

“Being able to be in what they [international travellers] would consider a natural environment is really exciting to them, and be something quite accessible from the city as opposed to being a couple of hours out of town, where they might not have access to other attractions,” Dr Dale said.

A survey of Singapore Airline visitors had shown that experiences as simple as walking around the lake offered something more adventurous than what they had at home.

Dr Dale said the government would be looking for someone quite specific to develop the hotel, but not necessarily those that operate in remote locations, the Arboretum being more of a hybrid idea.

She believes the investment appetite would eventually return but finding the skilled staff for such a venture would remain challenging.

”They’ve been sitting on their hands for 18 months, so they will be itching to do something so perhaps tapping into those newer markets will be appealing,” Dr Dale said.

But she warned that even when international flights resume it will take years for the tourism sector to recover.

The National Arboretum is now one of Canberra’s most popular attractions and has opened new walking trails and gardens in recent times.

Director Scott Saddler said at the time of the market sounding that accommodation had always been part of the original design.

“This will be immersed in its own forest, own landscaping, own turf and will add to the amenity and beautification of the National Arboretum,” he said.


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20 Responses to Arboretum hotel plans on ice after interest dries up in pandemic environment
Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:28 am 17 Feb 21

“……..[international travelers] would consider a natural environment is really exciting to them………..”

But it is not “natural”. In fact it is as phony as Disneyland.

David Brown David Brown 8:50 am 17 Feb 21

Praise Heaven for small mercies.

Salima Haidary Salima Haidary 7:46 am 17 Feb 21

That would be so sad to ruin the beautiful space with a hotel... then God knows what else 🙄

Shayne Borger Shayne Borger 9:07 pm 16 Feb 21

Dont need a hotel in the Arboretum. Shouldve kept the original plan for Coombes to attract MTB and Triathlon and eco-tourism in what was Deeks forrest. The ACT Council wants to pave paradise

Ali Geez Ali Geez 8:50 pm 16 Feb 21

Not surprised to read the Arboretum is now one of Canberra’s most popular attractions! It is a stunning park full of international trees from all over the world; that makes it exciting and interesting to look at!

Peter Major Peter Major 7:30 pm 16 Feb 21

How will the Green ALP government raise revenue, oh yeah raise rates further

Starry Hardjadinata Starry Hardjadinata 5:53 pm 16 Feb 21

Good! Don’t need more hotels!

Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 5:27 pm 16 Feb 21

Kitch to have a hotel in an arboretum!! Be enough to keep nature lovers away.

Lara Zangl Lara Zangl 5:27 pm 16 Feb 21

That's a shame, not sure the Arboretum was the best spot for it, but we need more tourist accommodation in the vicinity of our major attractions.

Phil Hopkins Phil Hopkins 5:03 pm 16 Feb 21

Why does it need a hotel?

Judith Devitt Judith Devitt 4:53 pm 16 Feb 21

I don’t think a public space should start allowing private investors , sounds a little Trumpish to me .. 🌲🌳🌲🌳 🌲💚💚 next thing there will be a golf course 🧐🙁

Jeff Smith Jeff Smith 4:25 pm 16 Feb 21

I love the Totara trees that remind me of my New Zealand homeland. But I want to love the Arboretum for the trees not the hotel. Himalayan Cedars are magnificent too.

    Gordon Allen Gordon Allen 9:10 pm 16 Feb 21

    Jeff Smith I spent a day in the Himalayan Cedars about 25 years ago doing the practical part of my bushfire brigade chainsaw course , was terriffic

Alan Vogt Alan Vogt 4:13 pm 16 Feb 21

I don’t understand the need for it. Better served to support our existing tourism accommodation infrastructure

Margus von Tihemetsa Margus von Tihemetsa 4:09 pm 16 Feb 21

There is no need to build a hotel at every place where there is a bit of ‘nature’ worth looking at. In any case, Canberra already has at least 10 hotels within 10 min drive of the Arboretum that would suffice just fine.

    Pia Kivela Pia Kivela 5:30 pm 16 Feb 21

    Margus von Tihemetsa Agree with you sometimes we just nature

    Joan James Joan James 6:09 pm 16 Feb 21

    Margus von Tihemetsa I agree.

    Mark Whithear Mark Whithear 7:40 pm 16 Feb 21

    Where are those hotels.? This concept was aimed at eco tourism & adventure sports. And would help put Canberra on the map for MTB and triathlon tourism.

    Margaret Lay Margaret Lay 9:33 am 17 Feb 21

    Margus von Tihemetsa how about environmentally sound Glamping?

Josie Conlan Josie Conlan 3:02 pm 16 Feb 21

Good. We need housing for the homeless

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