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FULLY OCCUPIRD: Marylyn New\'s Esplanade River Suites, renamed this week from the Pagoda Hotel, is her first business step outside Fremantle. Photo: Grant Currall.

New hotel move keeps focus on Perth’s booming hospitality trade

Marylyn New is something of a Western Australian enigma.

Raised to be a homemaker, Ms New has instead ended up as one of Perth's most colourful business people.

She runs a big private hotel operator in a sector dominated by large corporates.

Her Esplanade Hotel business is up there nudging close to five-star level, yet she believes she really is made to be in the budget accommodation business.

And to take it a step further, she is a one-time Liberal party candidate with a business base in Labor's Fremantle bastion.

The daughter of brick magnate Ric New, she has become a larger-than-life character of her own through the inheritance of a fortune and her sudden decision to become a hotelier.

Speaking to WA Business News during her first hours as the new owner of the former Pagoda Hotel in South Perth, the 63-year-old shows no signs of being wearied by nearly 20 years in one of the toughest business sectors in the state.

Taking possession, which includes a name change to the Esplanade River Suites, Ms New said she was inspecting the service to see whether it was up to scratch.

Paying in the order of $30 million for the site, Ms New said she was keen to get a foothold in the Perth area and had been hunting for something suitable for some time.

And no wonder, with Perth's occupancy rates among the highest in the world - the Esplanade Suites was 88 per cent occupied the night before the interview - it should be a terrific time to be in the hotel business.

But Ms New said it was far from the case, with room rates still prohibitively low.

"We had a $188 average room rate for the past month," she said, referring to her 300-room Fremantle icon.

"We would need $350 [average room rate] to build a new hotel. You can see we [WA] have a big problem and a long way to go."

Pointing to what she believes is poor management synonymous with much of the sector, Ms New believes Perth's multinational-owned five-star hotels have failed to take the lead on raising prices and value adding to push rates up, so the rest of the industry - including her hotels - can follow.

"In 17 years it [Esplanade's average room rate] has gone up less than $100 and costs have gone up hugely in that time," Ms New said.

Add exorbitant construction prices and buying an existing location was a better option, she says, especially when you add in the synergies gained by having 129 new rooms in South Perth to host her good customers and providing career opportunities for existing staff.

Ms New entered the hotel business in 1991, going into business with restaurateur Warren Mead after receiving a barrage of business opportunities from across the spectrum.

"People were thinking my money would save them," she said.

A believer that intuition is important in business, she realised the partnership with Mr Mead was not right and bought him out within months of the original purchase. But she has no regrets about that start to her business life.

"I would never have had the courage to the buy the business; it was like a fee for getting me into business," Ms New said.

Despite her concerns for the sector's viability, the Esplanade has worked for her. Ms New said developing a convention room from a defunct nightclub was a key factor in making it a profitable venture.

The Esplanade in Fremantle is now WA's third biggest convention destination, a bread-and-butter business for the tourist and marine-focused port town.

But it's not all business focus for Ms New, who had returned from a break at Rottnest to take control of her new asset.

Having failed to take the federal seat of Perth off Ric Charlesworth nearly two decades ago, she has maintained an interest in politics, though she is clearly frustrated by the Liberal Party she has supported.

An issue in her own family introduced her to Holyoake, the Perth-based institution which aims to help the families of those affected by alcohol and drug addiction.

"Holyoake changed my life," she said. "It freed me to be the person I am, it was the family programs that did it."

She now chairs the organisation and is very keen on a future fund raising program that will, in part, aim to reach children and teach them the basics of emotional intelligence.

"It will help with all kinds of behaviour," she said.

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