Belfast’s hotel boom: growth shows no signs of slowing

Many of the new additions to Belfast's skyline have been hotels
Many of the new additions to Belfast's skyline have been hotels

The recent surge in hotel growth in Belfast has led some to question where all the guests are coming from, but expert opinion is that demand far exceeds supply in terms of hotel beds in Northern Ireland’s capital.

On Friday past journalists were invited to tour the site of the new AC Hotel by the Marriott at City Quays – one of four major new hotel developments expected in the city by summer time.

The average room rate at the Maldron Belfast City is �89

The average room rate at the Maldron Belfast City is �89

The previous Friday, after being open just four days, the Maldron Hotel at Brunswick Street was full to capacity.

According to the hotels, they are answering demand.

A senior chartered accountant agreed that a hotel boom was long overdue.

ASM’s Michael Williamson said: “Northern Ireland is just a teenager in tourism terms. We have all this growth potential but not the underpinning infrastructure.

Francine O'Hagan, Sales and Marketing Manager at Maldron Hotel Belfast City; Mike Gatt, General Manager at Maldron Hotel Belfast City; Orlaith McCann, Deputy General Manager at Maldron Hotel Belfast City

Francine O'Hagan, Sales and Marketing Manager at Maldron Hotel Belfast City; Mike Gatt, General Manager at Maldron Hotel Belfast City; Orlaith McCann, Deputy General Manager at Maldron Hotel Belfast City

“From 2013 onwards Belfast has the highest hotel occupancy rate after London.

“Up until the opening of the Bullitt and Titanic hotels, the hotel growth had been pretty quiet. Now we’ve got a steady stream of new hotels opening and established hotels are increasing their capacities.”

The Maldron opened a week ago while the AC by Marriott at City Quays is expecting to open in April.

The 304-bedroom Grand Central on Bedford Street will become NI’s biggest hotel while the Hilton group are soon to unveil the Hampton at Hope Street.

The AC Hotel by Marriott will have an average rate of �139 (room only)

The AC Hotel by Marriott will have an average rate of �139 (room only)

Others hotels in the pipeline include the easyHotel from the easyJet group on Howard Street and a boutique hotel in Bank Square.

An application is also being considered for a George Best hotel in the city.

“Once one or two put in planning applications it sort of opened the floodgates,” said Mr Williamson.

“Belfast is growing as a tourist and conference destination. Titanic has completely raised the profile of city, but with added visitors numbers, you can’t stand still.

Jean-Christophe Novelli's restaurant at the AC Hotel in Belfast

Jean-Christophe Novelli's restaurant at the AC Hotel in Belfast

“We need a second major must-see tourist attraction to go with Titanic Belfast.”

He added: “This current wave of hotel growth will cause occupy rates to drop, but I wouldn’t be surprised that by 2022 we will need more again.”

NO ROOM AT THE INN AFTER JUST FOUR NIGHTS

The Maldron opened up its new hotel in Brunswick Street on Tuesday, March 13. By Friday, March 16, all 237 of its rooms were fully booked.

It may seem that they’ve got this hospitality lark down to a fine art, but a lot of hard work has gone on to keep the hotel maids busy.

Sales manager Francine O’Hagan, 31, from Omeath in Co Louth, explained that having a website and online presence is an important part of filling rooms in hotels while they are under construction.

The hotel has been taking online bookings since last November and has also picked up trade through tour operators.

Ms O’Hagan said: “The type of visitors we’re getting are largely tourists and corporate guests. There’s a good mixture of people from UK and down south. With the current exchange rate it’s very encouraging for southerners to come up north. People from mainland UK are getting good value for money on their sterling.

“In addition we have a lot of our tour series from Europe and Asia.”

She added: “Room availability in the city is always quite low. These new hotels are being built to meet demand. Tourism in Belfast has grown massively. Even the Troubled past is an attraction. The fact it’s so walkable is another plus point for a city break.”

She said many tourists liked to use Belfast as a stepping stones to explore places like the Giant’s Causeway or Game of Thrones territory.

For hotel manager Mike Gatt, 52, running the Maldron Hotel in Belfast has brought him full circle: “I went here when it was the College of Business Studies. I then watched it go down to a hole in the ground and then watched every brick being built. It’s like watching your child grow up.

“It was a very proud day when we opened the doors. Ironically when one of the first guests walked in the door, she was completely unaware that the hotel had literally just opened the minute she walked in. It was a big deal for me but it meant nothing to her.”

The Belfast man has fond memories of the building across the road from his hotel – now a bar and club complex.

“It used to be WH Dunlop – a linen wholesaler. My grandfather Harry Boyd worked there for 52 years. I’ve very happy memories of being in there with him.

“It’s great that I can now look out of this hotel and see the window where he would have worked. We’ve named the Boyd conference room in the hotel after him.

“I’ve never been that superstitious, but it is a bit coincidental.”

NEW ARRIVAL OFFERS CITY’S FIRST RIVERSIDE DINING EXPERIENCE

In three weeks another new hotel will open at Belfast’s City Quays to meet the demand of corporate visitors and tourists coming to the city’s rapidly expanding harbour area.

AC Hotel Belfast – a four-star hotel with 188 rooms – will be the first Marriott in Northern Ireland. The chain has 6,500 properties across 127 countries.

The custom-designed hotel features an almost entirely glazed façade, providing a 360-degrees view across the river towards Titanic Quarter and the wider cityscape.

AC Hotel Belfast will create up to 80 jobs for the city, across all areas of the hotel, including the ‘Novelli at City Quays’ restaurant.

Jean-Christophe Novelli is behind the bespoke-for-Belfast brasserie in the hotel, the first restaurant the multi-Michelin-starred and five-out-of-five AA Rosette award-winning chef will open in Ireland.

Jim Mulholland, a highly regarded Northern Ireland chef, has been selected to head up the kitchen. He first came to the attention of Jean-Christophe Novelli in 2016 when he cooked for him at Ballyrobin Country Lodge, making a memorable impact both for his food and his personality.

The 112-seater restaurant will be set on Belfast’s waterfront and weather permitting diners will be able to eat al fresco on an open-air terrace.

The hotel represents a £25million investment by its owner and developer, Belfast Harbour.

Tim Boyle explained: “City Quays was formerly ferry terminals but they’ve all moved further down the port into deeper water.

“Our master plan for the whole 20 acres is to make it mainly business area with commercial offices, but also to mix in some leisure retail, car parking, restaurants and of course a hotel.

“The Marriott is a well known brand which business travellers will be very familiar with. The bar and restaurant right at the riverside gives it an extra dimension and gives locals a very good reason to come here as well.”

He added: “Belfast has a real under supply of city centre hotels so it was an easy decision from a commercial point of view to invest.”

Hotel manager Lisa Steele said: “Given the international endorsements that Belfast and NI as a whole have received, including Belfast being named Lonely Planet’s must-see destination, it’s not surprising that the hotel industry is flourishing here. It’s a very exciting time for the industry here and especially AC Hotel Belfast, as we bring a new offering to the market.”