Recommend’s Associate Editor, Michelle Marie Arean, had a chance to chat with Ian Swain, founder of Swain Destinations, last week about his recent visit to One&Only Hayman, on the Great Barrier Reef, where he was the first guest to experience the property. Swain, one of the industry’s top experts on Australia, shares with us his first-hand experience, as well as a few tidbits about traveling in Australia and about Swain Destinations.
Michelle Arean (MA): Tell us about your visit and experience to One&Only Hayman.
Ian Swain (IS): To be the first guest to arrive on opening day and be flown in by helicopter, greeted by the general manager, and have about 50 of the staff waiting for you was quite a dramatic entrance. I’ve been going to Hayman for about 20 years; I’ve been there 30 times. It’s very special for me and our company, and is one of largest providers for our business. I’ve never seen anything as dramatic.
MA: Tell us about the accommodations? What are some of the onsite amenities?
IS: The difference is in the quality of the room and how they’ve changed the rooms. There are 162 rooms. They knocked things out, left the shell and rebuilt them as suites. Each room has four poster beds with drapes over the top flowing in the wind. There are four wings—the Pool Wing, the Lagoon Wing, the Beach Wing, and the penthouses. The Pool Wing is in front of the big dramatic Hayman pool. Suites on the ground floor overlook the pool, and you will eventually get in the pool from the suite. The Hayman wing, also known as the Lagoon Wing, had a small round pool and lagoon around it before, they left the lagoon and took the pool out. It’s a family-style pool, with a waterfall, bar, hanging out area, and restaurant. Eventually, families will be staying there, it’ll be family-suggested, not family only. Because of the restaurant there, entertainment will be going on with different types of music playing in different places, from jazz to fun-for-kids music.
The Beach Wing, introduced two to three years ago, has beach villas and one beach house that’s a 1-bedroom suite with plunge pool and very large areas. The villas are smaller. The three penthouses have all been renovated, all very contemporary with iPod docking stations and flat-screen TVs. At the penthouses on the Beach Wing there is one butler per two rooms, then when you get to the suites you have one butler for four suites, and in the small rooms you have one butler for eight rooms, so you really have a full butler service no matter where you are.
MA: What are the onsite activities?
IS: Hayman is right next to the beach activity and the Hobie Cat area.
There are five restaurants—the casual one, The Pacific, where they have breakfast, and a seafood buffet, or BBQ, and have different themes on different nights. There’s a restaurant around the pool on the rocks serving lunch or dinner. The Italian, Amici, and the Oriental, that’s a mixture of different Asian types of food such as Japanese, Chinese, Singapore, etc.; and an upscale restaurant, Fire. There are 25-40 chefs on the island now.
MA: How about in the surrounding areas?
IS: You can do a hike on the top of the mountain, wave board, hobbie cats, parasailing, diving in the Great Barrier Reef, take a helicopter out to the Reef, or visit White Hayman Beach, which is a short flight away. My favorite thing to do is take a helicopter or seaplane, go ashore, and then the pilot takes an umbrella and sets it up. Guests can also take fishing boats, go deep-sea or off-shore fishing, or take a helicopter across Hayman to a golf course.
MA: Why should agents recommend One&Only Hayman to their clients? What can guests expect out of their stay at One&Only Hayman?
IS: One of the neat things I found out when I was talking to Alan Leibman, who is the CEO, is that he stresses how he really believes in bringing his leadership team in from other resorts so they can pick up best practices of each One&Only. When they closed the property for refurbishment, they sent the leadership team to the other resorts; they spent two or three months learning the One&Only brand and the One&Only way because there’s only a One&Only way to do things, as far as they’re concerned. That’s very evident, and it’s a change I noticed from other times I’ve been there. Simple things—like everywhere I walked, and I was there for two days, every staff member greeted me and looked up at me instead of looking down when I walked past them in the hallway. They looked up and said, ‘good morning’ or ‘how are you?’, or ‘what are you up to today?’. They really showed an interest and that’s something the One&Only brand really wants to get across with everybody is the interest they have in their guests to have an incredible stay when they’re there.
MA: Who is the ideal guest for One&Only Hayman?
IS: Anyone that enjoys great food and wine, enjoys pampering, enjoys energetic places, or anyone who wants to relax and see the Great Barrier Reef at their pace without being rushed out.
MA: Would you say this is a family-friendly? If so, what is there for kids to do there?
IS: Oh, most definitely. They already have about 70 families who have already booked there. I went to Hayman with the kids and they just loved it.
MA: What was your favorite experience/activity/ amenity/ or perk of One&Only Hayman?
IS: There are so many. Flying to Whitehaven Beach like I mentioned before by helicopter, and the diving is incredible because you have the Great Barrier Reef just a short boat ride or flight from the property where you can feed the fish. There are incredible spas as well; they have beautiful rooms. It’s wonderful for people who like spas. You can spend morning, afternoon or a day at the spa. You have the hiking. The food is incredible because you have all the food at the different restaurants. It’s part of the energy. The feeling when you get there, you just feel relaxed.
MA: Why should agents recommend Australia as a destination? What sets it apart?
IS: Australia is the No. 1 dream destination of the world. I think it’s because of the friendliness of the Australians. I talk to our clients when they come back or even when they’re down there, and they say they make friends and they love it because the Aussies are so friendly. We’ve seen more and more people going to Australia. Our business increased 25 percent last year and we’re looking at a 30 percent increase this year. Part of it is due to the extra luxury properties that have become available in Australia in the past couple of years. Going back 27 years ago when I started the business, they only really had two luxury properties. Now they have 17 luxury properties. There’s a lot more reason for Americans to want to go down there now.
MA: Give us a little info about Swain Destinations for agents who might not be familiar with the company and its product?
IS: We customize everything. We start with a blank piece of paper, and say what do you want to do, where do you want to go, and we plan it out in a way that makes sense. We find out the comfort level they have with the budget and we adjust it to those circumstances because some people don’t want to spend a lot on hotels, and some of them do.
We customize high-end travel experiences to Australia, Asia, Africa, and India. We’ve got people from those destinations to handle the trips for our clients. So you’re going to get that passion and quality, and knowledge of a local who is going to be planning out these trips for your clients.
From a travel perspective, people out there are enjoying travel more now. They’re getting more adventurous, and they’re doing more things. They’re finding multigenerational family travel is just growing so quickly whether it’s an African safari or going to Australia. One of the most popular for Australia now is over Christmas and the New Year where we take our guests to Hayman Island for four or five nights and then take them down to Sydney where we have these private yachts chartered to take our guests out on Sydney Harbor where they have this incredible view of the fireworks on New Year’s Eve in Sydney Harbor, which is really the best place to view it from.
MA: When would be the best time for someone to visit Australia?
IS: There is no bad time. The thing about our winter is that you have the Great Barrier Reef when it’s clearest.
If you want to go without the crowds, you’d do September, October, or November, March, April or May. The Christmas time period is a perfect time, so it’s the 19th or 20th of December and it’s one of our busiest travel days. We have many people flying down to Australia and New Zealand to spend Christmas and New Year’s there and coming back the 4th or 5th. There really is no bad time to go, it just depends what you’re looking for. We try to avoid taking people to the middle of Australia in the summer because it gets very hot.
For the holidays, we have the New Year’s Eve Sydney Harbor yacht cruise—three boats that are 85- or 90-ft. long—one boat is dedicated as a family boat with things for kids to do, the other two boats are more adult boats for people who don’t want to be around children. You leave at 7 p.m. from the dock in Sydney and stay out there for six hours. Rates are about $1,500 pp.