Plans for ‘bush retreat’

Developer BEKL has announced plans to transform Geelong Conference Centre into a boutique hotel.

By Luke Voogt

Geelong Conference Centre is set to transform into the city’s “first retreat-style boutique hotel”, the site’s new owners have announced.

Developer BEKL on Monday announced plans to redevelop the site near Geelong Botanic Gardens.

The redevelopment is separate from state and federal government plans for a new Geelong convention centre on the waterfront.

BEKL purchased the 1.6-hectare site in March, which boasts a 4500-square-metre building area, including seven conference rooms, 46 accommodation suites, and bar and restaurant facilities

The company said the existing site, featuring a swimming pool and spa, provided a foundation for its “unique” redevelopment plans.

BEKL managing director Katherine Liu said the “stunning destination hotel” would draw inspiration from its botanical surrounds and the area’s “bush retreat heritage”.

The company advocates for ‘biophilic design’, which aims to connect people with nature to reduce stress and improve wellbeing.

“This will be a big focus as we move to create a wellness destination to be enjoyed, be it by corporate guests, leisure travellers or locals,” Ms Liu said.

According to Tourism Australia, wellness tourism has grown at 7.6 per cent per annum over the past five years to 2018, with 900,000 visitors that year.

Ms Liu described the growth as double that of overall tourism in Australia.

“We identified a huge gap in the market, given the region is lacking in small, high-quality accommodation providers with a focus on experiential accommodation, especially where wellness is concerned,” Ms Liu said.

“The development will herald the return of this venue as a significant economic asset for the region and a key destination for locals and visitors alike.

“We want to provide guests with a slower, more connected experience, that allows them to disconnect from the day-to-day and reconnect with nature, and each other.”

BEKL planned to source ingredients from the Bellarine Peninsula in a ‘farm-to-table’ approach for its meals and beverages.

The developer is in discussion with a number of hotel operators and hopes to appoint a partner for the project later this year.

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