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Regional tourism eyeing expansion


“Now people are limited in travelling, they are choosing to explore a lot of our beautiful state,” Matt Kelly, co-owner Hotel Elliot.

Image: Hotel Elliot. Image via www.hotelelliot.com

What can a humble pub in a charming coastal town at the gateway to South Australia’s gorgeous Fleurieu Peninsula teach the nation’s $150 billion tourism industry about getting on its feet again?  


Hotel Elliot owner and operator Matt Kelly says despite the travails of COVID-19 he is eyeing expansion as visitors flock back to the coast. 


“Before the pandemic, a lot of South Australians went interstate and overseas. Now people are limited in travelling, they are choosing to explore a lot of our beautiful state,” he says. 


But it is how Matt’s business is managing that surge that is garnering attention. 


Through a mixture of initiatives/strategies Hotel Elliot has seen a significant leap in turnover over the last year and continues the upward momentum.


“(Before COVID-19) I felt we were steering in the right direction if we got five, six or seven per cent growth.”  


There is no doubt the Aussie tourism/hospitality sector has faced a tumultuous year. 


Recent estimates from Tourism Research Australia show tourism spending has fallen 38 per cent in the 2020-21 financial year – a period which includes the worst of the shutdowns.

Port Elliott, South Australia. Image via www.hotelelliot.com


Sea change


Matt’s partner in the business is an international cricketer and friend Shaun Tait. They took over the hotel about seven years ago and have seen steady growth.  


Port Elliot is a small historic town sheltered on Horseshoe Bay on the eastern side of the Fleurieu Peninsula.  


Initially a goods port for the nascent colony, the waters of the bay proved too perilous to act as a consistent port for sailing ships of the era so the town instead settled into being a quiet holiday destination.  


Being an hour from Adelaide by car it is becoming a sought after destination for wide range of suburbanites wanting a weekender by the coast to access the surf and the fishing and the many other attractions within the Fleurieu Peninsula. 


Increasingly the hotel – situated about 200 metres from the beach – is finding a clientele of families from that new Sea Change bracket and has become a “destination venue” for people coming from Adelaide and accessing the larger peninsula.  


“We have a lot of holiday residence owners, as well as a lot of repeat visitors. I know most of them by first name. They feel comfortable coming into the hotel,” Matt says.  


“I do have certain (patrons from Victoria and New South Wales) who come over during the summer months, some are looking to basically live over here now.”  


“Port Elliot has a bit more charm and 150 years of history to it,” Matt says when comparing with other local locations.  


The hotel is also next to the Station where the historic “Cockle Train” stops – a steam engine route that in earlier days took tourists to the mouth of the Murray at Goolwa to collect cockles and return to Victor Harbor.  

Business partners Shaun Tait (left) and Matt Kelly. Image via Instagram @hotelelliot


Matt’s vision as operator of the Hotel Elliot is to ensure he protects the essential charm of the hotel, and also to play a significant role in helping the town develop and flourish as a major tourism destination.


“The residents down here are very protective of this charm and history. I’ve only been here seven years so I’m not a local, but I can feel their passion overall for the Strand as a place.”  


Hotel Elliot’s outdoor area has proven a success. Image via Image via Instagram @hotelelliot


When venues were forced to close their doors under COVID-19 restrictions last March, Matt and his main chefs decided to keep trading by doing takeaway meals. 


Hotel Elliot had a point of difference in offering full meals like chicken schnitzel and Thai green curry and was soon serving neighbouring towns through word of mouth.  


Using the state’s two-month lockdown to his advantage, Matt built an outdoor bar to cater to the busy summer months.


“If I had my time over, the bar should have been bigger. The success surprised me to be honest.”


Big plans for future growth


In March last year Matt purchased for expansion purposes an old building and land next door to the hotel, which had served for years as a pin ball parlour. 


He is currently developing the site into a Function centre that will cater for a wide range of conventions and events for locals and corporates from Adelaide.


This area can also be opened up as an expanded dining area with an alfresco bar fronting The Strand.


“I specially want to attract the wedding market. A lot of people get married up the road on the doorsteps of the majestic Horseshoe Bay.  


“My vision is you go to a mate’s wedding, you see it out to 3:30pm-4pm, you have an hour when they have photos taken and you can then wander down to Hotel Elliot,” he says. 


Matt says the development will create employment growth. He currently employs 40 staff at the hotel and expects to employ 60 to 70 staff when the function centre opens.


“We will promote the Hotel Elliot Hub as the must go to place for food, wine and hospitality on the Fleurieu Peninsula.”


The vision for the function area is also to allow it to be used as a training venue for the region’s hospitality staff.


“The Hospitality and Tourism sector is the third highest employer on the Fleurieu Peninsula,” he says.


“What I have found is a lot of local people want to be trained in the hospitality sector. Currently they have to go to Regency in Adelaide which is about 90-minute drive. I am going to organise programs to cater for these people.” 


ANZ Relationship Manager Steven Fairhurst says it’s important ANZ continues to support businesses through the adversity of COVID-19.


“Matt is a business owner who is always looking at ways to improve his business and ensure he has the right product offering for his client base,” he says.


“It was no surprise Matt was quick to adapt his business and although there was some initial pain with restrictions, his business remains strong and continues to expand,” Steven says.


“Being able to offer financial assistance early on helps alleviate some of the fear and give business owners time to assess the best way for them and their business to adapt.”


While he has all these business growth plans underway, Matt still has an eye on maintaining the charm of his hotel. 


He points out more than half a century ago the building’s blue stones were rendered, taking away the exterior which fitted in with many other old blue stone buildings on the strand. 


“I’m not a great fan of renders – of rendering – back in the 1950s it was the in thing. But with next door very closely about to commence I would like to marry the two together,” Matt says. 


“The library and the chambers (of commerce) are bluestone and to have those two plus the hotel down the track it will be worth it.” 


Jeff Whalley is a business writer of more than ten years whose work appeared regularly in The Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph, The Adelaide Advertiser and the Brisbane Courier Mail.


In this series, Jeff talks to small to medium businesses about their journey and experience of growth, especially during 2020 - a year like no other.


Have your own business idea? At ANZ, can help guide you through what’s important and what to avoid when you’re thinking about business development. Get in touch or find out more about our business banking products and services here.


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