The following opinion piece featured in the Irish News on 22nd May 2018.
Cranes are now a regular site across the Belfast skyline again and much has been made of the sharp increase in hotels that have opened up in the city in the last couple of years. The increase in footfall and also choice has greatly impacted the licensed industry with more venues creating stiffer competition and premises ‘upping their game’ to attract both the local and tourist trade.
As a commercial law firm with a particular specialism in licensing law, O’Reilly Stewart is at the forefront of developments in the hotel trade and hospitality industry generally. The past two years have been unprecedented in terms of the number of new hotels entering the market and are a sure sign that the Northern Ireland economy, particularly in Belfast, is on an upward trajectory.
We have been involved in two new major projects due to open in the coming months; Hampton by Hilton, the newest addition to the Andras House hotel group and first Hampton by Hilton hotel to open on the island of Ireland and Grand Central Hotel, due to be the largest hotel in Northern Ireland when it is opened by Hastings Hotels in June. Both developments are important in that their respective operators are local businesses who are showing considerable faith in Northern Ireland by investing such sums in the local economy. Nestled with that we have seen the opening earlier this year of the Maldron Belfast City Centre and the AC by Mariott, while the Titanic Hotel opened in September 2017, showing Belfast is also deemed to be an attractive location for operators based outside the region as well.
The latest figures from the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation show hotel rooms due to break the 9000 barrier in the second half of 2018 and 10,000 by 2020. There are currently 50 projects in various stages of planning and development across the North and with occupancy figures averaging at 77.8% it’s obvious why others want to get in on the act.
As well as providing accommodation, our hotels are also adding value to Belfast’s nightlife. The recent development of Bullitt Hotel and large scale extension to Ten Square Hotel have turned them into night time venues as well as simply places to sleep. Restaurants in the city centre are flourishing and such is the number of visitors to our city that Commercial Court Inns, the owners of well- known venues Harp Bar and Duke of York, have even opened up a specialist Irish whiskey off-sales in the Cathedral Quarter aimed particularly at tourists.