It is a renowned holiday destination approaching its 70th birthday, but that doesn’t stop the surprises from coming at InterContinental Hayman Island Resort
I make it a rule not to shop when I go on holiday. Not because I don’t want to, but because for me, shopping in a new destination full of shiny, pretty things is like peeling the lid off a tube of Pringles – once I pop, I can’t stop. My accountant would definitely tell me it’s something I should avoid at all costs, so it’s a good thing he can’t see me as I pack for my departure from Hayman Island and try to fit two pairs of shoes that I didn’t have on my way over into my suitcase.
In my defence, I’d bet that few would be immune to the charms of InterContinental Hayman Island Resort’s boutique-meets-food-store, Grove, even if your vice is a glass of wine at the end of the day, rather than a new silk kaftan. I guarantee your resolve will be toast when you discover not only bottles of wine for sale, but also cheeseboards and takeaway platters you can take to the beach or back to your room. It’s refreshing, to say the least, to find a resort that has cottoned on to the fact that sometimes all you want is an easy grab-and-go snack, rather than a full-service meal in a restaurant… for the third time that day.
Equally refreshing are the filtered water fountains scattered around the resort, where you can fill up your complimentary water bottle as often as you like. “We’re not nickel and diming people,” General Manager at InterContinental Hayman Island Resort Mark Eletr tells me on an August afternoon in the impeccably designed interior of oceanfront restaurant, Aqua. “We serve free water in all of our restaurants – we’re not making you pay $16 for a bottle of San Pellegrino.”
This is something I can definitely get on board with, and I am happy to discover similar sparks of ingenuity during my three-night stay – my first time on the island, despite its lengthy tenure as a resort destination and countless iterations. They might not be in your face, but they will bring a smile to your face – things like the self-serve juicing station at the expansive and pretty darn magnificent buffet breakfast, where you can get your mixologist on and make a fruit and veg elixir worthy of a Millennial’s Instagram story.
Just don’t go looking for a plastic straw to complete the picture, nor should you get your hopes up about adding to your bathroom miniatures stockpile – there is a strict no single use-plastic policy at Hayman Island. Plus, the only sunscreen for sale is reef-safe, and state-of-the-art in-room technology conserves and maximises energy on the island. “We take environmental responsibility very seriously,” Eletr explains. “We want people to feel that they are being responsible when they come here… and that we are a responsible operator.”
These eco-conscious decisions are part of a broader sustainability initiative by InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), which announced in July that its entire hotel estate of almost 843,000 guest rooms will switch to bulk-size bathroom amenities by the end of 2021 – the first global hotel company to do so.
And there are other changes taking place at IHG. Hayman Island, which opened on July 1, is one of four resort openings for InterContinental this year, as it evidently expands further into the leisure resort space. It’s a recent development for a brand that has historically been known for its city locales and sleek, universally appealing (aka inoffensive) corporate style. The opening of a ‘destination location’ property like Hayman Island InterContinental Resort, then, is a big statement.
“I think we’re going to see rapid growth in this particular space for the InterContinental brand,” Eletr says. “I think what is a really interesting shift is how [IHG is] starting to think in terms of how can they grow into this resort leisure [space with] very unique properties.”
Eletr adds that InterContinental has a history of going into unusual buildings and surprising cities where the luxury sector has not really penetrated yet. The onsen-inspired ANA InterContinental Beppu Resort & Spa in the emerging Oita Prefecture in southwestern Japan, the region’s first international luxury resort, is a clear example of this. InterContinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu in France, which opened in June after an extensive four-year restoration of an historic former hospital, also shows the brand’s appetite for incorporating boutique-inspired, unique design and a sense of place into their new properties.
“It’s good to see InterContinental changing its flavour a little bit to be much more experiential, to be much more holistic, and to be much more grounded to each individual location… so you come to Australia or you go to Beppu and you’re having those very local experiences,” Eletr says. “You have to anchor the resort to the location. [At Hayman Island] we want that message that we are a truly immersive luxury experience – you will feel like you are on holidays from the moment you step onto our boat and into our care.”
Immersive. It’s a word being thrown around even more than ‘luxury’, ever since the travel industry determined that luxury travellers want experiences, not things – but what does it actually mean to visit an immersive resort? I’m not sure even the consumers, to whom the word is marketed, know. For Eletr, InterContinental Hayman Island Resort is immersive because the guest experience of the resort is inextricably linked to the natural environment and there is an overwhelming locality to a stay there.
The Great Barrier Reef is a mere 35-minute boat ride away, and the island itself has reef systems just off-shore, like that found at Blue Pearl Bay, or in the coral gardens off Langford. On land, you can also do a three- to four-hour trek that will take you around the coast and back around behind the ultra-luxurious Hayman Island Residences – currently for sale with an eight-figure price tag.
“It’s all too often that you’ll go to a destination and you won’t be able to access things, you’ll only see it from the surface. And when you go into the restaurant the menu is full of imported product and imported wine… and the spa product is an international brand. We wanted everything to be really honest and local and authentic and value-driven… yes we are doing Italian [food], yes we are doing Asian [food], but it’s all local product and it’s served in a very Australian style.”
He’s right about that. The Australian-ness of the staff at InterContinental Hayman Island shines through – a relaxed, friendly and personable but still professional approach, all served up with that unique accent Americans love to call ‘cute’. “I think the Australian style of luxury is not having this robotic, cookiecutter style of service,” says Eletr. “That’s not that relevant anymore.” He calls the Hayman style “heartfelt hospitality”.
“We don’t want that Maldivian style of luxury where there’s staff falling from the roof… we want meaningful interactions and people can really walk away thinking, ‘wow, there’s such a human element to Hayman; it’s not just about the hardware, not just about the beach’.”
On the subject of those purely superficial elements, however, they do deserve a mention, because InterContinental has done a great job of breathing new life into Hayman Island. They haven’t gone so far as to start from scratch, following the destruction of Cyclone Debbie in 2017, which caused the island’s subsequent two-year closure. Most of the resort’s buildings pre-existed and that ginormous pastel blue pool – loved by many – is ever-present. But the interiors have been redesigned and reinvigorated with an art deco-inspired, mid-century flourish and a neutral, coastal palette broken up with the occasional modern pop of colour. It’s all very easy on the eye.
And if you think there is something familiar in the air… you’re right, it literally is in the air – InterContinental’s signature fragrance. I notice it as soon as I walk into the lobby and surprise myself by proclaiming, “It smells like InterContinental”, to a few raised eyebrows. I couldn’t tell you what the actual scent is, but that’s not really the point. This brilliant, subtle sensory tool not only creates a sense of luxury, but also subconsciously sparks a feeling of comforting familiarity – and affinity with the brand. Smart.
As for the accommodation, my Executive Room is huge, and the bathroom and dressing room design is well thought out, although I sense the credit for that may go to a previous resort iteration. Do I get all tingly over the ‘iconic’, bright blue Hayman pool, a step from my deck? Not particularly. As far as pool designs go, the industry has moved on and I’d much sooner opt for one of the resort’s luxurious beachfront suites. But there are plenty of impressive features inside the room itself to admire, like a spacious lounge area, coffee machine and a gorgeous four-poster bed. Not that I spend much time in it – there is simply too much else on offer, and before we leave island life and head back to civilisation, it’s time for an ocean adventure.
I head off on a boat with my group of eager, wetsuit-clad travel companions who have decided they’ll be damned if they let a little rain stop them from the day’s snorkelling adventure. The ocean’s hue is a far cry from that quintessential, postcard-worthy ‘Whitsundays blue’ you’d expect, and the sky’s clouds are an anti-tropical shade of grey, but nothing is raining on their parade. We’re at Hayman Island, after all, and she’s a true blue beauty, come rain or shine