Palmer Resort is now the last resort…

We’ve all had those jobs we remember fondly. One of my favourites was the launch of Hyatt Regency Coolum, back in 1989. I was running O & M Direct and we did all the marketing from the launch stage. Up until earlier this year, the resort was still a client of my agency, so we have a long history.

It was the first spa resort in Australia, built on a swamp on the Sunshine Coast. It’s offering was very unique back then, though much copied now.

The launch wasn’t without it’s hiccups. If you’ve been there you’ll know there is a palm-lined entry road that sweeps into the resort. Well the first palms they planted came from a rainforest (legally). Now I’m no botanist, but if you take palms from a rainforest, which by its nature has a canopy to shield the harsh sunlight, and replant them in the hot Queensland sun, what do you think will happen? You’re right. They all wilted and died and had to be replaced with a different type of palm, which still lives there today.

Hyatt Coolum

The initial expectation was that the wealthy socialites from Toorak, South Yarra and the Eastern suburbs of Sydney would fly up and treat themselves to some expensive pampering. Unfortunately the launch deals were so good, the resort suffered an influx of weekend warriors from Brisbane who brought their own eskies stocked with XXXX beer and food. That’s pronounced ‘4 ex’ for those who don’t know Australian beer brands. And it’s not called ‘XXXX’ because the locals cannot spell beer – I’m told that’s a myth:)

But this crowd would descend at weekends with their own food and booze and not spend a cent at the resort – which wasn’t the management plan. So eventually the offers were changed.

Not the customers on the management plan
Not the customers on the management plan

The resort was launched using just direct mail to 400 influencial people. These days they’d probably have a digi-label like “Influencers” or “Advocates” or “Ambassadors“. The mailing was a box with a Russian Doll inside. Each time you opened one doll, it revealed a benefit of the resort, such as “find the artist inside you” and “find a new way to relax” until the final doll said “find yourself at Hyatt Regency Coolum”. There was a letter, brochure and an invitation to experience the resort.

This was our “Content Marketing Strategy”. Hundreds of the recipients took up the offer – and then went back and publicised the resort for us. Ita Buttrose ran a fashion shoot in Women’s Weekly magazine, while stories appeared in fashion, tourism, food, business and other general interest publications as well as TV. Many influencers wanted to be photographed as the first people using the resort, so they used publicists to ensure it was known they were staying there. There was so much publicity we printed all the PR ‘content’ as a booklet and used it in further mailings and promotions. Nothing like content marketing 1980’s style! And it did win loads of awards, which is very important if you work in advertising.

Then we launched the TV ad – with the tag line “Find yourself at Coolum” – hey, we were integrated marketers. We shot it on a 1 star budget though – check it out on YouTube. Very 1980’s.

And given that nobody knew where Coolum was – Google Earth didn’t exist – we had to play on the “find yourself” double entendre. The TVCs had offers attached to the end of them which varied depending upon the market in which they ran. They were supported with a range of press advertisements which also contained offers. We learnt long ago that the punters view all ads as brand ads, so we didn’t need to create a separate brand campaign.

The resort was successfully managed by Hyatt for almost 25 years, overcoming the great airplane strike and other recessions – then Clive Palmer’s company took ownership last year.

palmer coolum resort

Those who had managed it for years are no longer there. I returned with friends and family to stay in one of the homes next to the resort in January this year. The home comes with a golf cart and access to use the resort facilities at a discount. The first day was our last day using the facilities, except for golf.

It was obvious things had changed by the giant yellow signs with thin black san serif font “GR8 Food” displayed on the main road. Not exactly what you’d use to position a 5-star resort. Then of course there is the dinosaur on the first tee – certainly unique in the world of international golf and the (now former) home of the Australian PGA.


On our first day, I ordered a takeaway coffee – $5 at resort prices. While waiting for my cup of java, I witnessed something to make Faulty Towers a first class establishment. A lady appeared from behind the bar with 2 cups of coffee and proceeded to walk around the empty cafe seating area looking for the customers. She couldn’t find them, so dumped the coffees on the bar and left them there. Eventually two ladies appeared asking about their coffee order and were directed to the cups getting cold at the end of the bar.

I’m still waiting for my coffee.

Then a man ordered two cocktails – it was almost noon. The barman looked at his watch and exclaimed “you want cocktails at this time of day?” The customer said “well it is a resort and I am on holidays.” So the disgruntled barman rang someone else in the resort who could make cocktails and told them to come down to the bar and do so. It took over 12 minutes for the cocktail-kid to turn up and another 10 to make them.

I’m still waiting for my coffee.

Then a lady carrying a tray of java and other drinks turned around behind the bar without looking and ran straight into the non-cocktail barman, spilling all drinks everywhere.

I’m still waiting for my coffee.

Meanwhile a bloke had ordered 4 coffees after me and was looking anxiously at his watch, as I advised him I had only ordered one.

Then the drinks-tray lady, that appeared to have “trainee” on her badge, but I didn’t have my glasses so cannot be sure, started to make one coffee on a machine designed to make 8 or 10 cups. It was an act in rigid slow motion and was obviously something she had not done very often.

I’m still waiting for my coffee.

Turns out the “trainee” was making mine. It was so hot I nearly burnt my fingers through the wax-paper cup. I smiled hopefully at the 4-cup bloke as I walked away – we’d bonded while we waited. I took one sip and immediately found the garbage bin where I dumped the cup after pouring the java into the garden – it was the best use of those poor sacrificed beans.

hot coffee

I’m not sure whether 4-cup bloke got his coffee or not.

A few days later I took my son for 9 holes of golf – who knows, he may be good at it and keep me in my later years? My good mate who was sharing the holiday house with us, went to the practise green to brush up on his pitching and putting.

golf at coolum

As we played, Clive’s helicopters arrived not far off. My mate finished his practise, picked up his wedge, putter and bag of balls and decided to walk over and meet us at the 7th green to share a lift back in the golf cart. On his way, Clive went past on his cart and my mate acknowledged him with a freindly ‘hello‘ and a wave.

By the time my mate met us at the 7th green, the Course Marshall had arrived to kick him off the course. Apparently Clive had rung him, concerned that my mate was playing golf illegally on the course and had rung the Marshall and instructed him to act. The Marshall was extremely embarrassed when he spoke with us, but had to do as he was told.

The point is that my mate could have been the resort’s most valuable customer. Clive had no idea who he was and didn’t care. And how much golf could you ‘steal’ with a putter and wedge on that course? My mate had to walk all the way back to our house on his own.

This is not how you treat customers in a 5-star resort. But maybe the plans are to reduce the number of stars, so the expectation of service downgrades too? Who knows what’s going to happen, given the dinosaurs, the Titanic 2 and the recent political ambitions?

All I know is that we won’t be going back and neither will the other family that was with us. I understand we’re not the only ones, as occupancy levels are alleged to be near the lowest they have ever been.

It’s a shame, as I’ve always liked finding myself at Coolum, so to speak. We’ll just have to find another place to stay.

Where’s my Google?

One comment

  1. Aah, the nostalgia… I remember that launch…. I think one of those packs of Russian Dolls made it to my boss’s desk. My parents stayed there for a conference and came back raving about the place. I’m surprise he hasn’t renamed it Palmerston or some such.

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