Warrnambool’s mobile sea change

Owners of the Deep Blue Hotel and Hot Springs Rebecca and Gene Seabrook

The owner of the Deep Blue Hotel and Hot Springs, Gene Seabrook, shares how he thinks upcoming mobile coverage improvements will benefit his business.

The Victorian coastal town of Warrnambool is about to undergo a sea change in its communications, as the Victorian Government partners with telcos Optus and Telstra to build three new mobile towers and upgrade eight existing towers to 5G. One of the more than 25,338 premises that will benefit from the improved capacity is the Deep Blue Hotel and Hot Springs.

The hotel’s natural geothermal mineral waters – suitable for anyone five years old and upward – are themselves also about connection.

“It's a great opportunity for families to connect,” says owner, Gene Seabrook. “It’s not strenuous – a child can bathe with their grandmother – and I believe it's very good for both of them.”

Mobile phones are allowed in the hot springs, on the proviso that people only photograph themselves and their friends, but the current lack of mobile connectivity means that people can’t spontaneously share their images on social media, which today is part of the travel experience.

“In the spirit of the moment, they'll want to straightaway upload it, but with poor connectivity, the guest loses that spur of the moment thing,” says Gene, but it’s not the only way in which improved mobile services would support his business and community.

“Better mobile would help us so much with our guests and staff,” says Gene. “We upgraded our Wi-Fi services and installed fibre optics just so we could meet the basic guest expectations, but it can still be a struggle.” Phone reception even in the rooms can be poor, and the demand placed on the hotel’s systems by its Streamvision entertainment channel along with guests’ many phone and tablet devices can reduce functionality. Even their EFTPOS machines can be affected.

“It’s not just our business,” says Gene. “The beach, which is a huge attraction for tourists, is only 150 metres away but they struggle for reception as well.”

The benefits will be personal as well – it will be much easier for parents to watch Netflix at the same time as children are completing studies or homework online, video chatting with friends or uploading posts to platforms like TikTok or Facebook.

These everyday experiences affect business, education and family life, and show why it is so important that connectivity is improved in this growing area of Victoria. That’s why the Victorian government has partnered with telecommunications providers Optus and Telstra to improve mobile coverage in the area over the coming three years. The improvements will cover 14 suburbs within 285 square kilometres including Allansford, Dennington and Warrnambool, and key places such as Warrnambool Base Hospital and the Deakin University Warrnambool Campus. Three towers will also be made more resilient during natural disasters.

This investment is part of the $550 million Connecting Victoria program to fast-track better mobile and broadband in as many places as possible.

For a place with so much tourism, the prospect of improved services has the potential to boost the region’s recovery from the impact that the pandemic had on its economy by providing a contemporary, interactive and connected experience.

“Guests are seeking nature-based experiences at the moment,” says Gene, “and they want to be able to share those experiences, not just at our hot springs, but right throughout Warrnambool. We have beautiful beaches, whale watching, and Tower Hill Reserve, great attractions to Warrnambool and for regional Victoria that need assistance after struggling through COVID-19.”

“But if there's no internet, you can't share your location and experience. And that's a real disadvantage right around regional Victoria, not just for Warrnambool.”

Improved mobile services are likely to create opportunities for businesses like Deep Blue Hotel and Hot Springs to expand what they offer.

“Between our businesses, we employ about 110 people, so we would be able to communicate better with staff,” says Gene. “We could probably look at upgrading our internal phone network from old telephone lines to offering cheaper online guest calls through WiFi. If we had better services, we could even develop apps to allow guests to interact with the hotel directly, such as requesting a turn-down service.”

To keep up to date with upcoming projects, visit Connecting Victoria.