Australian Venue Co (AVC) has just spent $1.3 million refreshing and repositioning the Bonny View Hotel in suburban Brisbane, with more renovations on the horizon in Queensland.

The Bald Hills pubs has just completed an overhaul of its offering, to make it more modern and family-friendly in recognition of the changing demographic of the area. The hotel now includes a new al fresco dining area, public bar and deck with a western outlook to the House Mountain range. Elsewhere in Brisbane, the group has also just spent $2.5 million renovating Fitzy’s Loganholme making it a more tropical space with a focus on outdoor entertaining, as well as expanding the gaming room to make it one of the biggest in the area.

Both of these renovations were planned pre-COVID, but Scott Brydson, AVC’s Queensland state manager, said that COVID-19 had not affected its refurbishment program for the state moving forward.

“Even planning in advance, we haven’t really taken any considerations around COVID’s impacts. The plan is what the plan was pre-COVID. We see some really good opportunities to do up our venues and to bring them more into the future. We’re certainly not going to let COVID stop us from refreshing any location to make sure the offer is certainly where it should be.”

Brydson said the general focus of the refurbishment program was to take advantage of the warmer Queensland climate and focus on outdoor entertaining spaces.

“We are certainly investing in this point in time, and COVID won’t stop us from doing that.”

The investment strategy is also in line with landlord HPI’s aims in the state, who in their newly released annual report said they would continue to work with tenants to enhance the value of the portfolio through upgrades. HPI also provided QVC with some rent relief this year in response to the pandemic.

A geographic challenge

While trade has certainly been affected by the coronavirus crisis,Byrdson stated that there has been some recovery as Queenslanders start to venture out once more.

“We are seeing some strong performances across the board based on that, which is really good. We’re seeing some venues at and actually above their pre-COVID  sales.

“It’s also been really good to get our team back to work, particularly with JobKeeper being extended. So that’s really allowed us to set ourselves up for success, having the right team members on at the right time, to make sure that we are offering the right service and that experience expected pre-COVID.”

While Brydson is generally positive, he did note that some of the state’s venues were still facing some serious challenges – particularly around the closure of borders.

“We have a number of venues in regional areas, and some parts of Brisbane, that really do lean on the tourist trade. And then going up to Far North Queensland  as well, we’ve got a number of locations on the northern beaches of Cairns and around Airlie Beach that are certainly still struggling off the back of not having tourists, particularly international tourists, around those areas.”

The other main challenges for the group are venues with accommodation, in which that revenue stream has had very little trade; and CBD venues that normally rely on office workers, with these venues doing less than half of their normal trade.

“The other aspect which is a challenge is around those larger style venues where the one in 4sqm ruling makes it really difficult to get the amount of traffic within our pubs to bring it up anywhere near the levels that we’re used to,” explained Brydson.

Like many other operators in the state, he is hoping that a reduction from the 4sqm rule to a 2sqm is not too far off in the state’s future.

Despite these challenges Brydson is encouraged by the pick-up in visitation from the public, and believes a state-wide initiative is now paying dividends. For the last six weeks, QVC has run the Happy Days activation, in which bills have been discounted by 50 per cent between 5:30-6:30pm. The initiative encouraged people to return to their local pubs.

“That was really encouraging, and was more rewarding in encouraging people to get back out and visit their local pub, and pick up on those pre-COVID experiences, which they were all really happy about.

“Overall we’re quite encouraged with people coming back out to their local for a schooner and parmy.”

Image: Fitzy’s Loganholme (Facebook)

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