£500m hotels spend is 'an era of opportunity' says report

The 304-bedroom Grand Central Hotel will open in Belfast next June
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE hotels sector in the north is enjoying the most rapid period of growth in its history, with £500 million being spent between now and 2020 to bring the rooms complement to more than 10,000 at 151 separate properties.

And when the clutch of current new-build hotels come on stream, there will be three million beds a year to be sold, according to a report from trade body the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF).

But for the industry meet its full potential and to consistently fill those beds, the NIHF insists there will have to be "a radical rethink" on issues around tourism tax, air passenger duty and the apprentice levy.

"This is an era of opportunity, and we must grasp it with both hands," Federation chief executive Janice Gault told the Irish News.

“The hotel sector stands to make a massive investment of £500m which will see room numbers grow from 8,066 to 10,049, while jobs numbers will increase from 10,486 today to 13,064.

"That will see the wages rise from their current levels of £283 million to £354 million.

"The construction phase of building the current batch of new hotels will also be a massive boost to the local economy, generating £169m in wages and bringing 6,746 jobs."

But Ms Gault added: "It is therefore imperative this investment is not squandered, because the sector will need support with skills, promotion and access to ensure we fill the three million rooms that will be available to sell annually by 2020."

The NIHF report, which benefits from information from ASM Belfast and economic analysis from Webb Advisory and the Ulster University, will be formally launched as part of Hospitality Exchange 2017 this Wednesday and Thursday. It shows:

:: Today there are 51 three-star hotels and 37-four star. This will grow to 54 and 44 respectively by 2020 and account for 74 per cent of the overall room stock.

:: The projected £500m hotels spend is made up of £250m in new developments in Belfast, £150m in the rest of the north and £100m in upgrades to existing stock.

:: The rooms growth by 2020 will see 1,472 new rooms in Belfast, 294 in Derry, 329 on the north coast and 180 across the rest of the north.

:: Of the 10,049 rooms by 2020, some 988 will be in five-star properties, 4,385 in four-star, 3,538 in three-star, 60 in one- and two-star, 615 in budget hotels and 463 in ungraded hotels.

A number of new hotels have opened in the city in the last two years including the Bullitt and the 119-bedroom Titanic Hotel in Belfast, Bishops Gate and the Shipquay in Derry, and the refurbished Ten Square close to Belfast City Hall.

Among the hotels under construction in Belfast alone right now are the AC Hotel by Marriott, Grand Central Hotel, Hampton by Hilton and the George Best boutique hotel.

The 304-room Grand Central, alone, marks a £53 million privately-funded investment by the Hastings Group, and is due to open next June, making it the biggest hotel in the city.

The hotels investment comes as Belfast bids for its share of major events such as the 2023 Rugby World Cup and the European Capital of Culture the same year.

That will enhance the city's reputation as a popular tourist destination, with around 145,000 cruise visitors arriving in 2016 while the conference and exhibition centre at the Waterfront also led to around 73 conferences last year, generating more than 74,000 bed nights from business tourism.

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