Northern Ireland

Slieve Donard Hotel sold to US property group for £40m

The Slieve Donard Hotel has been sold
The Slieve Donard Hotel has been sold

One of Northern Ireland's best known hotels has been sold for £40m.

Rumours have abounded since the summer that the multi-award winning Slieve Donard Hotel and spa resort in Newcastle has been lined up for a sale, possibly to an American billionaire.

Today it was confirmed that it has been sold to US property investment group AJ Capital Partners, which is based in Nashville and headed by founder and chief executive Ben Weprin.

AJ Capital Partners already owns three hotels near golf courses in Scotland – The Marine Troon, Rusacks St Andrews and Marine North Berwick. The Slieve Donard Hotel is close to Royal Couty Down Golf Club. The Slieve Donard will be operated by AJ Capital Partners under its Marine & Lawn Hotels & Resorts brand.

The group has also worked on restoration of hotels in Nashville and Chicago, and in 2014 launched its Graduate Hotels chain.

Hastings Hotels Group confirmed that all current jobs are to be retained in the sale, and all food, accommodation, wedding and event reservations made with the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa will be honoured by the new owners.  Hastings Hotels vouchers and gift cards purchased prior to today can also continue to be redeemed at the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa or any other Hastings Hotel. 

AJ Capital Partners CEO and Founder Ben Weprin said: “We are honoured to welcome Slieve Donard Resort & Spa to the Marine & Lawn collection. It’s a tremendous responsibility and honor to be the next steward of this timeless asset. The Hastings family has held that distinction for nearly 50 years and we plan to carry and uphold the tradition and spirit of this iconic property and connect it with our existing assets to create a collection unparalleled in the golf world.”   

 Having operated the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa since 1972, Dr Hastings said that Hastings Hotels would always have a “great fondness” for the venue and paid tribute to its employees there. 

 “Hastings Hotels is exceptionally proud of just how much has been achieved at the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa over the past 50 years,” he said. “That it should attract investment from such a highly regarded international hotel operator is testament to its reputation for exceptional quality and service, only made possible by its outstanding team of employees – many of whom have served here for decades."

It comes after a complete management restructure at the Hastings Group over the summer, with a number of new holding companies being set up for some of its properties, including the Slieve Donard.

The structural changes have also included the termination of the appointments of some of its key directors, including that of Lady Joy Hastings, wife of the group's late founder Sir William Hastings, in June.

Then in August, directorship appointments were terminated for James McGinn, who has had a high profile role in the company for 30 years, and also finance director Peter Gibson, who only took up that position in January 2020.

In May, the Hastings Group's latest set of published accounts laid bare the destructive impact of the Covid pandemic on its day-to-day operations.

They showed that turnover in the year to October 31 2020 slumped by 49 per cent from £49.4 million to £25.1 million, which includes an impairment charge of £5.3 million related to a write-down on tangible assets.

It also swung from an operating profit of £6.6m in 2019 to a loss of £13.4m last year - an eye-watering decline of 301 per cent.

Significantly, the accounts revealed that net assets as Hastings Group plummeted from £50.7m to £33.4m, which is less than its current borrowings of £47.6m.

Hastings Hotels Managing Director Howard Hastings said: “AJ Capital Partners’ acquisition of the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa is encouraging news for hospitality and tourism in Northern Ireland and, in particular, for the burgeoning golf tourism industry here – which has been an important driver of local tourism in recent years and shows significant growth potential in the future. 

“This investment is a strong sign of confidence in the local market by a major international hotel operator with exciting ambitions for the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa in the coming years. I have every confidence that AJ Capital Partners will be sympathetic to the heritage of the hotel and that, under their leadership, it will continue to flourish and maintain its reputation as an iconic destination in Northern Ireland.”