Northern Ireland's hotels stock now at 9,500 rooms after £1 billion investment in 20 years

There are now 9,548 bedrooms in 145 hotels in Northern Ireland - mainly high-end properties
Gary McDonald Business Editor

INVESTMENT in hotels in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement has eclipsed £1 billion as the industry has undergone a "seismic shift", a new report has revealed.

Today the sector comprises 145 hotels with a bedroom stock of 9,548 rooms - double that of two decades ago - and supports 15,000 direct and indirect jobs.

And estimates for this year predict that 2.5 million hotel bedrooms will be sold (in 1999 it was just one million).

The figures are contained in a report by the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) released to coincide with the two-day Hospitality Exchange conference at the Crowne Plaza Belfast starting today.

Using information compiled by ASM and STR, the report says a quarter of the current hotel room stock is under five years old and 75 per cent of the market is three-star and above, including some of the world's leading brands as well as strong indigenous products.

“The hotel landscape has altered dramatically, and it's only when you look back to 1999, when our organisation was formed, that you realise the seismic changes which have occurred," NIHF chief executive Janice Gault said.

“Hotels have invested heavily in new builds, extensions and refurbishments and the entire market has moved up the grading scale.

“The four-star market in particularly has flourished, and budget hotels are now just 16 per cent of the overall room stock. The one- and two-star sector is effectively defunct."

The report says hotels have become much larger, averaging 66 rooms (in 1999 it was 36 rooms).

And while there have been some pressure on the market in terms of occupancy and revenues, demand in Belfast, where most of the expansion has occurred, is running at plus-8.3 per cent this year, meaning that on many days and weekends it's virtually impossible to secure a booking.

Indeed forecasts created at the end of 2018 have also been revised upwards after a strong summer and point to overall occupancy in 2019 of 72 per cent with a room rate of £80.

But Ms Gault cautions: “The cloud of Brexit looms and the Northern Ireland economy is in a vulnerable position.

“Uncertainty is the real enemy here. People are holding back on bookings, and any physical barrier or perceived impediments to movement of visitors across the island won't be good news for tourism.”

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