In Australia, people visit Port Douglas for three reasons: The Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest, and the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas resort.

But in recent years — the iconic beachside property that has hosted a bevy of international celebrities, Australian Prime Ministers, and US Presidents — lacked the lustre of it's glory days, owing to decor to that was more Muriel's Wedding (think: blue carpet and cane furniture) than Focus (you know, that sexy con movie starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie). So while people continued to visit Port Douglas to snorkel in one of the Seven Natural Wonders Of The World, or hike through the world's oldest rainforest (yes, older than the Amazon), they didn't necessarily check into the Sheraton Mirage.

However, all that is about to change with the recently completed AUD $43 million renovation of the resort. Top-to-toe, the property has undergone an extensive face-lift as part of Sheraton 2020 — the brand's new plan to put Sheraton back in the global spotlight — which includes: All 294 guest rooms reimagined with a fresh and modern colour palette accented with natural timber furnishings; introduction of 41 Lagoon Edge Rooms, and 12 Lagoon Edge Studio Suites, with direct access to two hectares of saltwater lagoon pools; and the debut of SPG Keyless for Sheraton in Asia Pacific, allowing guests to enter their rooms with the use of their smartphone.

Invited to experience and celebrate the official re-launch of Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas (tough job, I know, but someone has to do it), I had the opportunity to speak to both Vincent Ong, Asia Pacific Senior Brand Director of Starwood Hotels, and Steve Molnar, General Manager of Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas, about the robust renovations, the strategy behind Sheraton 2020, and the allure of tropical North Queensland.     

P.S. Watch the 360° teaser video
For an interactive 360° video of Port Douglas, click and drag on the video above to see different angles of this tropical town and the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef — produced by Think Virtual Reality, and filmed by our good friends Elvina Farkas and Lucas Milone from Anue Studios. 

Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Resort, Queensland, Australia

It's the era of creating content for mobile. How will the Sheraton 2020 plan contribute towards that digitally mobile future?
Vincent Ong: Through Sheraton 2020, as we introduce the revitalized Sheraton Brand positioning, the digital experience across desktop, mobile and tablet is being completely redesigned with a more flexible and modular framework.  This will make it easier to issue updates, incorporate exciting new content, and grow with the brand as we introduce new and enhanced programming for our guests. 

What was the driving rationale behind SPG Keyless entry?
Vincent Ong: We are fundamentally redefining the way guests arrive at our hotels — letting them arrive on their own terms. With today's rapidly evolving technology and people's mobile lifestyles, we know that the desire for this technology is there. Our tech-savvy guests manage most aspects of their life and travel from their smartphone and many no longer want to keep track of, or fumble with, keycards each time they enter their room. At the same time, this technology allows associates to give a much more personalized level of service, which is more difficult to do when they're standing behind a desk swiping credit cards and handing out keys.

How has SPG Keyless been received in other regions that have already integrated this technology? 
Vincent Ong: Since SPG Keyless first piloted at 10 hotels in November 2014, Starwood has been quick to roll out the new functionality around the world to over 36,000 doors. Already, over 350,000 members have registered, with SPG Platinum members being the most frequent users of the keyless solution, which provides a streamlined check-in process custom-made for their hyper-mobile travel needs. SPG Keyless has proven to be most popular in urban city-center hotel locations, especially at mid-size Aloft and W properties. Since launch, we are seeing more demand from hotels asking to convert to Keyless and also keeping Keyless in mind with new builds and renovations.

Lagoon Edge Studio Suite — Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Resort, Queensland, Australia
When people travel, they usually want to escape from their daily lives; and increasingly, this also includes escaping from their phones and emails. Will Sheraton's 2020 plan bring people further away or closer to their 'real lives'?
Vincent Ong: There are multiple brand enhancing initiatives behind Sheraton 2020.  Ultimately, the brand has the aim to build long lasting relationships with our guests and consumers. Travel on its own is an escape from daily predictable routines. We have a mission to make travel more effortless by helping our guests to easily experience more. It is less about imposing how our guests should experience our hotels' amenities or to experience the destination. 

When visiting Port Douglas, why should someone choose Sheraton Mirage over other hotels and resorts? What is its key competitive advantage?
Steve Molnar: I suppose it's the most recently revitalised and refreshed. The difference with the Sheraton here is that we're fully-owned, meaning that we operate and manage all the rooms. Most of the other properties here are a mix of strata title and timeshare with different owners. That allows us to be fully integrated as our owners also manage the golf course — so there's a direct link with being able to have golf packages, and being able to have a holistic stay in one location. 

Also, we're the only five star resort that has direct access to Four Mile Beach and we have the biggest pools in the whole of Australia. So these nine lagoons that you see out here? We pump the water in from the ocean, we retain that at high tide, so we ecologically keep the water refreshed. We evaporate about 200,000 litres of water a day. 

And historically it was this property that really put Port Douglas on the map in terms of attracting overseas travellers.
Steve Molnar: Absolutely, I think there was an ad campaign when it first opened — it was called 'Too Good To Be True' — and it attracted an era of super yachts and movie stars. Of course, lots of things have changed over the years, but I believe there's a new era. It's no longer just a movie star; it's someone that's quite young, wealthy, and like things at their fingertips.

Helicopter view of The Great Barrier Reef, Queesnland

Overall what do you think is your largest demographic coming into Sheraton Mirage?
Steve Molnar: There's probably two answers to that question. First, we have established travellers consistently coming over the last 27 years. I'd like to say it's family, but it's not, it's the business getaway, it's the leisure. Second, it's people that have very busy lifestyles, that need to be able to fly out here domestically, get a quick hit, spend four days and just be able to do so much in such a small destination.

Looking towards the future, is there a group of travellers that you want to attract? With Sheraton 2020, there seems to be a focus on the sophisticated digitally-connected traveller?
Steve Molnar: I've been with Starwood for 18 years and for each destination, it's getting that right balance. So it's the right balance of leisure and business for certain times of the year. And that right balance of international versus domestic. I'm a believer that if you become an iconic destination within your own country, that's when the overseas travellers want to come and visit. So that's very key and very important. This has always been a playground for the Sydney and Melbourne market, but it also picks up a big percentage out of US, a very strong percentage in Europe, and the Asia market is growing. With the world the wayt it is today, if something happens — whether it be weather or a particular major event — you wanna have that 75% of market that's resilient and sticks to it. I think, we're working towards that over the next 5 years. 

What is Starwood's strategy given the current state of global instability?
Vincent Ong: Economic cycles vary but hospitality is a long term business. Our focus is on growing and expanding our footprint especially in important growth markets. In Asia Pacific, where travel is booming, Starwood is ready to meet demand, with more than 300 hotels and 100,000 rooms in over 20 countries across the region today and an additional 200+ hotels in the pipeline. 

Greater China — Starwood's second-largest hotel market, behind only the US — continues to fuel global growth, accounting for over half of Asia Pacific's pipeline. Capitalizing on the economic boom in South Asia, the fastest-growing region in the world, Starwood will chart new territory when it opens two new hotels in Sri Lanka later this year and re-enters Nepal in 2017. In India, where Starwood has 47 hotels today and nearly 40 more in the pipeline, we signed 11 new deals in the first half of 2016 alone. 

Norman Tan hugging a koala, Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

In addition to the Four Mile beach and the neighbouring Wildlife Habitat, what other local favourites can you share with us?
Steve Molnar: Absolutely, there's actually some new ones emerging. Just within 20 minutes from here are some of the best water holes, including Mosman Gorge which is a natural attraction. But there are water holes here that you can swim in year-round — they're in the middle of the rainforest and aren't being fully promoted yet. Also, the drive from here to Cairns is one of the most beautiful drives along the coast. They're also looking at what they call 'Drive Great Barrier Reef'. So there's a connection between being able to go onto the coast, drive, and then visit the reef from there. It's a different concept from what is being currently offered.

Norman Tan exploring Mossman Gorge in the Daintree Rainforest, Queensland, Australia

For more information, visit Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Resort.

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Check back every Monday for another @MusingMutley column from Norman Tan, Editor-in-Chief of Buro 24/7 Singapore. For more columns from @MusingMutley, click here.

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