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Nine ‘live’ hotel projects in Northern Ireland bring in £100m investment

Published on 5 April 2024

Dunluce Lodge will be operated by Valor Hospitality Partners, a global hotel management company, in partnership with US owners Links Collection.

Independent operators account for lion’s share of guest accommodation, industry group says.

There are now nine new hotel projects underway in Northern Ireland bringing investment totalling £100m, a major report has said.

And the NI Hotels Federation (NIHF) has said it expects a further £300m to be invested in building, refurbishment or acquisition of hotels in the next five years.

Its research found there were a total of 70 projects under consideration for the region at the moment, though not all will come to fruition and many are not yet in the public domain.

Of nine live projects, five are in Belfast, the federation said, with one in Londonderry and the remaining three on the north coast as the region gears up for hosting The Open in 2025.

In total, the projects would add around 560 rooms to existing stock of 9,646 bedrooms across 143 hotels.

As it marked its 25th anniversary, the NIHF, reflected that over the quarter-century, hotel properties here have grown from an average of 37 rooms to 65.

Eddie McKeever, president of NIHF, said: “The industry has been transformed since 1999 investing over £1.5bn and almost doubling the number of bedrooms in the sector.

“As a profession we support 10,000 jobs directly and a further 5,000 either indirectly or induced. It is a story of success which has the ability to grow and provide further economic benefit to Northern Ireland.”

However, over the period, the numbers of bed and breakfasts and guesthouses have fallen – though there has been growth in alternative accommodation such as holiday apartments, lodges and even shepherds’ huts.

And independent operators of hotels dominate in the market here, accounting for 96 out of 143 businesses, NIHF said.

There were 19 sold under an international brand – with big names such as Hilton, Crowne Plaza and Marriott represented.

In addition, there were 18 run by Northern Ireland hotel groups such as McKeever Hotels, Galgorm Collection and Hastings Hotels,

And many were finding growing custom for their restaurants, as guests are confronted with limited choice in town and city centres during the week, NIHF said.

Yet the federation said there were many concerns facing hotels, including the introduction by the Home Office of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme, which will require overseas visitors accessing the UK to have additional documentation, including international holidaymakers travelling north from the Republic.

The NIHF said: “Concerns about inflation, increases in service costs and the perennial issue of staffing are a continuing worry.

“Added to this there is the introduction of new travel visa requirements which is confusing and a possible barrier for those wishing to tour the island of Ireland.”

The report added that the “primary focus will be keeping costs under control, especially with a 9.8% rise in national living wage to £11.44 an hour”.

Other recent trends including the decrease in the number of hotels being used for “government and humanitarian purposes” such as accommodating asylum seekers. The NIHF said: “This stock re-entering the market could impact on performance but, to date, the return of this product has been staggered with little to no effect on trading.”

Janice Gault, NIHF chief executive, said: “While political stability and the return of the Northern Ireland Executive have been welcomed, challenges persist, including securing affordable financing, addressing the 20% Vat rate, attracting suitable staff, and navigating the impending introduction of the ETA, perceived as a potential barrier to all-island tourism development.”

The nine new projects are Belfast’s Aloft, The Bedford on the site of the former George Best Hotel project, 10 to 16 Hill Street, all new projects, and the refurbishment of The Flint and The Gasworks, which is to be transformed into Voco Belfast.

On the north coast, there are three live projects – The Marcus in Portrush, expansion of The Salthouse in Ballycastle and Dunluce Lodge outside Bushmills.

There is just one live new project in Londonderry, the expansion of the Holiday Inn Express.

Source: Belfast Telegraph (link opens in new window)