These Boutique Hotels Are Changing the Way You Stay in Regional Australia

Circa Hotels

When Kevin Yaxley returned to Australia from Papua New Guinea in 2012, he had a burning idea for his next career move: he wanted to start his own hotel group. 

A consummate hospitality professional who had worked in hotels across the Asia Pacific for almost four decades, he identified a gap in the market for boutique stays offering relaxed luxury, with a focus on locations in regional Australia.

Circa Hotels business owners

Yaxley and his wife Ririn – who has a background in luxury spas – visited a dozen locations “from Port Douglas to Port Adelaide” in search of suitable properties before discovering the Rural Bank of New South Wales building in Corowa, an “absolutely stunning 1936 Art Deco building” on the banks of the Murray River and just 10 minutes from the wineries of Rutherglen.

Circa Hotels

The couple spent several years restoring and enhancing original features, such as pressed tin ceilings, and adding stylish contemporary touches before welcoming guests to the three-suite hotel in October 2015. The refurbished property pays tribute to the glamour and opulence of a bygone era with “19th-century service, 20th-century style and 21st- century facilities.”

The structure is the undisputed star feature and the name – Circa 1936 – reflects that, transporting guests back to the year the building was first opened. It’s since been joined by Circa 1928, which lies just upstream in Albury and has two suites themed after art luminaries born in that year.

Circa Hotels

“There’s Pro Hart art in one and Andy Warhol-inspired decoration in the other,” Yaxley explains. “That's been a huge hit. Instead of people walking into a vanilla box like they do with 90 per cent of hotels around the world, our customers walk into something that's got a real quirky, interesting story to tell within the room itself.”

The veteran hotelier knows that personalised hospitality is the most important thing he can offer his guests. So every morning, one of the first things he does is reach for his American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card.  “We use the Card every day, beginning at seven o’clock in the morning when we call in at the baker to get fresh croissants and fresh bread for guests,” he says. 

“Our most recent statement had a $4 sale on the same day as an $8500 transaction for architect’s fees; the Card works for everything from small, petty-cash-style transactions right through to major bills. And because there’s no pre-set spending limit¹, we don’t need to worry when larger payments arise.” 

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Card Members can access up to $1.5 million in a line of unsecured funding across a 12- month period¹ with the Card, something that was vital when Yaxley and his wife Ririn embarked on their journey. Because they’ve built the business entirely off their own back, they had to work to a budget and their American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card has helped them fund a number of large renovations as they transformed the old buildings into fresh, modern spaces. 

“And because we use the Card for all our day-to-day business expenses, from the fit-out to the weekly laundry bill, we’re earning Qantas Points that we can use for hotels in our own travels.”

Earning up to 1.25 Qantas Points per $1 spent² on everyday purchases means that even after “a quiet year” the Yaxley’s balance is sitting healthy at more than 700,000 Qantas Points – and they’re looking forward to putting them to good use soon.

“We’ve been lucky enough to stay at some of the best hotels around the world; I stayed at the Regent Four Seasons in Berlin and the general manager was amazing. The Peninsula Hong Kong and The Hermitage in Jakarta are two others that stand out. The general managers there manage to be everywhere they need to be, they’re true hosts. That’s what we want to offer.”

Unlock the possibilities for your business using 100,000 bonus Qantas Points* with the American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card. Simply spend $3,000 in the first 2 months of your approval date. New American Express Card Members only. Offer ends 10 January 2023. 

Circa Hotels

Unlock the possibilities

Kevin Yaxley shares his top small business tips.

• The key to… effective time management

“Our American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card gives us up to 51 days to pay for purchases³ and I take full advantage of that. It means that instead of putting aside cash for bills every third or fourth day, I pay it all at the end of the statement cycle. It makes the accounting much simpler – and frees up cash flow.”

• The key to… sustainable growth

“It’s important to know your limits. We don’t have deep pockets, so when we started the first Circa, we had a limited budget and couldn’t compete in the big cities. That’s why we looked at opportunities in regional Australia where we could play to our strengths with small properties and a very high level of hospitality.” 

• The key to… staying current

“One of the key appeals of our hotels is that they have personality - they’re stylish but not intimidating. We do all of the design ourselves and Ririn’s the creative genius behind the magic. She’ll be studying at the Florence Institute of Design International in Italy later this year to develop her skills even further while also gaining inspiration – and hopefully a few pieces of décor – for our next Circa project. Because there’s no pre-set spending limit¹, we were able to put the school fees and airfares on our American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card earning Qantas Points on every dollar spent². Then we booked her accommodation using Qantas Points through Qantas Hotels. It’s win-win.”

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Amex Qantas Business Rewards

• The key to… good leadership

“The general manager of a hotel is the host, and true hospitality always extends from them. But you can’t be everywhere at once, so you have to set the tone for your staff on the front line by being genuine and caring about your team.”

• The key to… maintaining relationships

“We try to make sure that every guest has an exceptional experience and that’s vital for customers in other industries as well. One of the great things about American Express is that we really like working with them. We have an American Express Account Manager who is absolutely delightful; she rings us every two or three months to ask if there’s anything she can do for us and that makes a huge difference.”

• The key to… fuelling creativity

“It doesn’t matter if you’re the first to have an idea or last – you have to have the courage to take the risk, back yourself and have faith in your own ability to see the idea through to success. That separates the winners from the dreamers. And you can always be inspired by what’s around you. We’ve been fortunate enough to stay at some of the best hotels in the world. I’ve drawn inspiration from 21c Museum Hotels in the United States and Hotel Droog in Holland. One of the great things about the Card is because we use it every day, we’re earning Qantas Points that we can use to book our next flight or our next stay. And that helps the business in the long run.”

Unlock the possibilities for your business using 100,000 bonus Qantas Points* with the American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card. Simply spend $3,000 in the first 2 months of your approval date. New American Express Card Members only. Offer ends 10 January 2023. 

Click here for terms and conditions.

SEE ALSO: This Iconic Tasmanian Business Uses Qantas Points to Unlock Opportunities

*100,000 bonus Qantas Points: Offer only available to new American Express Card Members who apply by 10 January 2023, are approved and spend $3,000 on eligible purchases on their new Card in the first two (2) months from the Card approval date. Eligible purchases do not include Card fees and charges, for example annual fees, interest, late payment, cash advances, balance transfers, traveller’s cheques and foreign currency conversion. Card Members who currently hold or who have previously held any other Card product issued by American Express Australia Limited in the preceding 18-month period are ineligible for this offer. 100,000 bonus Qantas Points will be awarded to the eligible Card Member's Account 8-10 weeks after the spend criteria has been met. Subject to the American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card Points Terms and Conditions. $450 annual fee applies. This advertised offer is not applicable or valid in conjunction with any other advertised or promotional offer.

American Express approval criteria applies. Subject to Terms and Conditions. Fees and charges apply. All information is correct as at 1 September 2022 and is subject to change. This offer is only available to those who reside in Australia. Cards are offered, issued and administered by American Express Australia Limited (ABN 92 108 952 085). ®Registered Trademark of American Express Company.

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