No sports fans means empty rooms in East Melbourne hotels

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Rhonda Dredge

Hoteliers in East Melbourne have been forced to reassess their reliance on sporting fixtures as a result of the recent outbreaks of COVID-19 at the MCG and AAMI Park.

“I thought I could manage during COVID. I was going to keep my doors open,” Jenny Kerr of Birches Serviced Apartments in nearby Simpson St said.

“It’s got the point now it might be better to close.”

And The Pullman, a 470-bed hotel in Wellington Parade directly opposite the MCG, swiftly closed for renovations when Victoria’s snap lockdown was announced.

“Everyone had to leave,” Harry Haralalubous said, one of the maintenance crew working at the hotel.

He said the place was jumping after the Carlton-Geelong game on July 10 when the infections occurred. “The other week it was chockas,” he said. “There were 70,000 at the footy.”

Now the hotel is in the hands of a maintenance crew and after an innings of 18 years, Jenny is considering selling her business.

The sports grounds were declared exposure sites last month with more than 6000 attendees graded as Tier I contacts and told to go into isolation for 14 days.

This was just the latest blow for Jenny. She was considering selling the business when the pandemic hit but is now “stuck in a holding bay”.

She has come up with several creative solutions to the drop in travellers during the successive lockdowns, but it takes two months to recover after each, she said.

During the long second lockdown, she rented out apartments to homeless people. One hit the news when she staged an exhibition of her paintings at Birches.

The charm of Jenny and her 1960s moderne building touched the hearts of locals and art people throughout the city as it formed a creative setting for Ms Painter’s work.

But now, in the dark, cold reality of the lingering pandemic, Jenny has had to reassess her livelihood.

“I’ve had to put off the maintenance guy,” she said. “The week before I did it all on my own. Normally I’m working hard on marketing.”

“There’s not much point these days. We put out a news blast last week because there were three games at the MCG.”

All that planning came to nothing because Round 18 games were played without crowds.

Jenny said she normally redid the data every month on her website. “I have to pay for optimisation but it’s starting to not pay for itself,” she said.

The only guests she has currently are the families of those having medical procedures at nearby hospitals. It saddens her when they show her their permits for travelling.

For now, Jenny is sending email brochures about her lovely little apartments directly to the receptionists of surgeons in the area so they can be forwarded to patients.

And The Pullman is taking the opportunity to renovate with maintenance staff working on balconies and 200 new mini-bar fridges being installed.

“We’re waiting for Dan before we re-open,” Harry said. “I’m glad I still have a job.” •

Caption: Jenny Kerr at Birches Serviced Apartments on Simpson Street.

Caption: Maintenance worker Harry Haralalubous at The Pullman.

Caption: The Pullman Hotel caters to visitors at the MCG.

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