How Australia’s wacky floating hotel ended up in North Korea

Ali Coulton

Around 30 years ago, Australia was responsible for the world’s first floating hotel. Since then, it’s been on quite a wild ride.

Opening in 1988 and boasting nearly 200 rooms over seven stories, the five-star hotel was located about 70 km off the coast of Townsville, drifting over John Brewer Reef. And, in classic 80s style, it was decked out with a neon nightclub, bars and restaurants, a helipad and a tennis court.

According to the ABC the hotel was created by Townsville developer Doug Traca who was fascinated by the reef.

“He was struck by the beauty of the reef, the wonder of it,” Traca’s son, who helped out with the project, told the ABC.

“Being under the water, or just floating over the top snorkelling — it was just really something he wanted to share with people.”

In 1986, the plans for the hotel were given to a Singapore-based firm for construction, and while details aren’t clear, the cost of construction appears to be over $40 million. From there it was towed more than 5,000  km to the Great Barrier Reef.


But according to Peter Traca, the hotel soon faced rough waters. Sorry, we couldn’t resist.

“Those couple of years from that arrival were notably gnarly weather,” he said.

Not to mention, the hotel was struck by cyclone Charlie before it even opened. However, it was largely undamaged, reports the ABC. 

Soon after opening, guest numbers were down, which at the time was ruled up to poor marketing, poor management and a fire on board one of the water taxis that brought guests to the hotel.

Robert De Jong from the Townsville Maritime Museum told the ABC the company behind the hotel, Barrier Reef Holdings Limited, sold it to another company based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to cover their losses.

From there, it wound up on another long journey to Vietnam where it became the Saigon Floating Hotel from 1989 – 1997. Locals referred to it as “The Floater”, and it became a popular accommodation and nightclub destination.


But it soon ran into more financial difficulties.

“Apparently it was transferred to North Korea when there was a time in the history of the two Koreas of appeasement and thawing of relations,” De Jong said.

“It was thought that the hotel in North Korea could be suitable for attracting tourists … I don’t think that happened really.

“However, the hotel still sits in North Korea, in Kumgang port. Using satellite imaging you can vaguely see it.”

Source: The ABC
Source: The ABC

Google Maps has sourced several user-submitted photographs of the hotel in its final destination, Mount Kumagang port, and in case you’re wondering: it currently has an average user rating of 2.8 stars.

Featured image: Peter Abraham via Flickr.