Australia's tourism industry is not yet ready for the Chinese market and risks "mucking it up" if not careful, according to the regional boss of Wyndham Hotel Group.
Chief executive and managing director of Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific and Wyndham Hotel Group South Pacific, Barry Robinson, identified limited language skills at hotels, and lack of multi-language signage as some of the issues when addressing the Chinese market.
"It's just not that accommodating for someone coming from China," he told Travel Today. "Even with our own properties, we're not at the level that I can be comfortable to say that at each of our properties I have a couple of Mandarin-speaking staff."
However, Robinson confirmed the matter is a top priority for Wyndham, with the firm planning to leverage its 600 properties in China to bring its Australian properties up to speed.
"We're going to do some cross-pollination with training between China and Australia, bringing down staff and rotating them around," he said.
Meanwhile, the overall outlook for Australia's accommodation sector remains "difficult" with a number of factors in play, according to Robinson.
"There's no point saying it's all rosy," he said. "It depends what's going to happen with the mining sector."
He identified the strong dollar as a major challenge, driving Australians overseas and rendering the destination less appealing in international markets.
"We've actually gone in reverse and are spending more money on refurbishing, services and getting our product right so that when the market turns we're in good shape," he said.
The firm has almost completed a $10-$15 million renovation of its Port Douglas property, one of the four properties it has acquired in the last 18 months.
Last week, it announced its more than $40 million investment in a Melbourne CBD property, to open in mid-2014 under its "hybrid" model which combines time share and hotel operations.
Robinson described the model as a "great fit" for the local market, with occupancies averaging around 80% to 86% through its vacation ownership program, "underpinning" occupancies in the hotel portion.
Wyndham currently has around $1 billion invested in "hybrid" properties in Australia, he revealed, adding the model demonstrates its commitment to the market.
"We have no interest in selling which is good from both sides," Robinson said. "It means we look at service levels and standards from a long-term perspective."
He confirmed Wyndham is "aggressively" searching for opportunities in capital cities, with Sydney and Perth highlighted as priorities. Acquisitions, management contracts and franchises are all possibilities, he added.