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World's first floating hotel. Australian resort fights to keep head above water

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Sure, Ivan Lendl is one of the world's top tennis players - on land. But how's his backhand in a two-meter swell? At the world's first floating hotel, guests may plumb the depths of their volleying skills on yet another first: a floating tennis court.

Most people don't come to the Great Barrier Reef Resort off Australia's northeast coast just to whack yellow balls into the translucent South Pacific. Diving and fishing on the reef are the main attractions of this unique resort, anchored 44 miles off the northeast coast of Australia.

Unfortunately for the owners, the $55 million (Australian; US$45 million) aquatic lodge is off to a wobbly start.

First, it opened six months behind schedule. A contract dispute with the Singapore shipbuilder delayed delivery until January. Then, Cyclone Charlie struck. Sixty-two mile-an-hour winds buffeted the seven-story luxury hotel. Damage was minor, except that the freshwater swimming pool moored alongside was ruined.

When it finally opened in March, the delays had cost Great Barrier Reef Holdings Ltd., the Sydney-based developer, millions of dollars in lost revenue. The hotel missed the lucrative Northern Hemisphere winter tourist market. Bad weather and competition from the World Exposition in Brisbane have since been blamed for low occupancy rates.

And now a marketing dispute with the hotel management, Four Seasons Ltd., has led the owners to hang out a ``For Sale'' sign. They aim to sell at least half their stake to void the management contract.

``The most difficult challenges are behind us,'' says a confident Malcolm Clyde, managing director of Great Barrier Reef Holdings. Indeed, despite the glitches, international interest remains high.

Mr. Clyde is negotiating with several hotel companies in the United States and Japan to jointly develop more floating hotels. There's even an (unlikely) proposal to put one in Antarctica.

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