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Curt’s insights regarding recent experiences in the Hotels industry

As seen in the December/January edition of QHA's QHA Review magazine. 

As we approach ‘the home stretch’ of what has been a tumultuous year, I wanted to briefly touch upon a few insightful observations I have made that may be of interest to Queensland hoteliers.

Applying for a new licence, or converting to a different licence?

Lately, I have seen unprecedented interest from hoteliers wanting to apply for new liquor and gaming licences in Queensland. These applications have fallen into two categories, which I have summarised below.

Firstly, I have seen significant interest in greenfield sites. This may seem odd when we are in the middle of a global pandemic which is also causing uncertainty in the broader economy. However, it is notable that Queensland has fared much better than many other parts of the country and indeed, the world.

That is not to say that the hotel industry in Queensland has been unaffected by COVID-19; the months of forced closures earlier in the year were among the darkest times I have seen in our industry in decades. Since reopening in July, the restrictions on weddings and other gatherings - not to mention interstate and international tourist visitors - have posed huge challenges. Nevertheless, expats and residents of the southern states have been looking upon us Queenslanders with envy (even more so than usual!) and I’ve noticed that this has sparked great interest in new projects within our state.

The second category of new licence applications I am seeing is from existing venues seeking to convert to a more appropriate, or different, category of liquor licence. Especially since 2008/ 2009 when our Liquor Act last underwent significant reform, OLGR has rightly been eager to ensure that licensees hold the most suitable liquor licence to suit their activities. On the back of this, in the last few months I have been assisting a number of licensees wanting to convert their existing club or restaurant licences (for example) to another type of licence such as a commercial hotel licence.

Whether applying for a new licence or converting an existing licence to a different category, there is a continued push to lift the standard required of licensees in terms of the responsible service of liquor and – particularly – gambling. I have noticed OLGR being more prescriptive of the standards required. For some sites, this has meant conditions being imposed on their licences to ensure the responsible service of gambling, instead of leaving it to licensees to take the lead on this and to determine whether they will sign up to the voluntary Queensland responsible gambling code of practice. Such conditions can be quite stringent and onerous on new licensees.

This serves to underline the importance of licensees continuing to do the right thing to ensure the responsible service of gambling by properly training your staff, implementing suitable policies and procedures to identify at-risk and problem gamblers, and being proactive in addressing this issue.

If you are wanting to apply for a new liquor or gaming licence, or seeking to convert your current licence to a more suitable category, then my team and I would be pleased to assist with any questions you may have about this process.

Reminder when opening a Detached Bottle Shop

Speaking of new licence applications, it is timely to point out to applicants for a new Commercial Hotel Licence (CHL) that if you are also seeking approval to operate a detached bottle shop (DBS), then your DBS will not be approved until you have commenced trade from your main premises. This will be relevant to both greenfield CHL sites as well as those applicants for a new CHL who wish to perform major refurbishments or fitouts to their venue before opening.

You may recall that all DBSs in Queensland must be attached to a CHL-licensed venue (the main premises). The main premises must be located within 10km of the DBS by road and any one CHL-licensed premises may have up to three DBSs attached to it.

An interesting quirk is that if the main premises has never traded, but you have a provisional CHL, and also an approval for a DBS, the DBS cannot trade until the main premises has traded.

However if you have an approval for a new DBS, and you want to start trading from that DBS at a time when the main premises may be temporarily shut for some reason, then provided the main premises has traded, you can open the new DBS for trade.   

Thinking of downsizing?

In the wake of COVID-19, I know some licensees have been wanting to downsize their premises to cut costs. If you are thinking of doing likewise, then you will need to apply for approval from OLGR by using a Form 24 application to change the licensed area. As part of that application you need to provide updated layout plans to OLGR showing the reduced size of your premises. If you are leasing your premises, then your landlord will also need to provide their consent by signing your application.

If your plans to downsize will also impact a licensed gaming area or the area covered by an adult entertainment permit, then you must also make a separate application to change those areas. Changes to a gaming area would need to be supported by new site plans and gaming area plans, and changes to an adult entertainment area would require an updated adult entertainment layout plan and management plan.

Should you need to conduct renovations to implement your changes (e.g. constructing a new wall to separate your premises from the rest of the property) then you should apply for OLGR approval for such works before the renovations begin. Depending on the nature of the works, you may also need approval from your local council.

On completion, OLGR will require a statement that you have completed the renovations, often accompanied by photos of the final product. In the past OLGR also needed a copy of the applicant’s certificate of classification, but this is no longer necessary for OLGR’s purposes (though it may be required by council).

Congratulations to Michael Sarquis

 Many of you may be aware that Mike Sarquis has recently retired from his role as the Executive Director of OLGR. Having known and dealt with Mike for the last few decades, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate him on a successful career and to thank him for his contribution to the liquor and gaming industry in our state. Best wishes to you, Mike, in this new period in your life.

Goodbye 2020

And finally, to all of you, our Queensland hoteliers. I would like to recognise and congratulate you for successfully navigating 2020 – a year that has thrown the industry countless curveballs. In speaking with many of you throughout the year, one thing has been abundantly clear: Queensland hoteliers are no quitters – in fact, your agility, optimism and perseverance should be commended.

I hope you all enjoy the festive season with your loved ones, and I look forward to having a drink with you at some point in the New Year.

Article written by Curt Schatz (Managing Partner) and Glen Rolley (Associate).

"The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication."