Stellar year for Hastings followed by record slump in guests - and dire directors' warning

GATHERING CLOUDS: Hastings Group, which owns the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle, are warning that the impact of Covid could have a dire impact on the company in its current trading year
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE north's biggest hotel group Hastings has enjoyed the most successful trading year in its history, growing sales by more than 20 per cent and seeing profits soar by a whopping 60 per cent.

But it reveals that occupancy levels in its properties have since slumped to historic lows in the midst of the Covid pandemic, forcing it to take immediate action to reduced costs and preserve cash.

And the directors have issued a dire warning that, in an absolute worst-case scenario, it may "cast a significant doubt on the group's ability to meet liabilities and on the company's ability to continue as a going concern".

This comes despite the group sitting on assets of more than £50 million at the end of 2019.

Newly-published accounts for the hospitality and catering group, which owns and operates seven venues across the north including Belfast's Grand Central and Europa Hotels as well as the Slieve Donard in Newcastle and Culloden near Holywood, cover the year to October 31 last year.

They reveal that Hastings Hotels enjoyed a stellar-performing 12 months, growing turnover from £41.2 million to £49.4 million.

Its pre-tax profits soared from just shy of £3.2 million in 2018 to more than £5.8 million last year.

It also took on more than 140 new staff over the trading period, with the number on its payroll jumping from 1,244 to 1,385, which in turn pushed up its overall wages bill from £14.8m to £17.2m.

The directors say they considered that the outturn for the year and the year-end position to be "satisfactory", but that was before post balance-sheet events.

But despite a solid performance from last November through to February, travel restrictions then led to a slump in occupancy, and the directors moved to reduced costs and preserve cash, including securing an additional £10 million bank loan facility.

In a statement with the accounts they add: "We remain focused on managing the business appropriately through this challenging period and also ensuring we are positioned to emerge strongly as our markets recover.

"We anticipate continued disruption in the months ahead, though forward visibility on the timing and shape of improvements in demand remains limited."

Speaking to the Irish News yesterday, Hastings Hotels finance director Peter Gibson said: "Whilst it's certainly encouraging that we experienced a 20 per cent increase in revenues and enjoyed our most successful trading year in history, there are still difficult times ahead as we continue to deal with the unprecedented challenges presented due to Covid-19.

"But, with a fair wind, things will come back around and we are confident we're in a strong position to sustain and, in time, grow business post Covid-19.

"We are committed to ensuring our portfolio of luxurious properties continue to attract local and international guests, and our investment in recent months reflects this, having just completed substantial renovations of the Spa at Culloden and the Spa at Slieve Donard, while a renovation programme of the guest bedrooms at the Europa Hotel is currently under way."

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