Hotel plans for Belfast are booming
We are living in very strange times with lots of unexpected developments. The Brexit referendum result came as a shock to many, but what has been even more surprising is the lack of a coherent exit plan.
Even more bizarre is the recent decision by the company that produces the Great British Bake Off to move to Channel 4. This news has generated nearly as many column inches as the Brexit announcement. Mary Berry along with Mel and Sue have signalled that they don't intend to make the move, whilst Paul Hollywood is opting for a BBC Bake Off Exit. If only politics attracted the same level of interest.
What does it say about the public psyche when the Great British Bake Off attracts more attention and indeed outrage than the decision to leave the EU?
Globally, the American election has been another surprise with two unpopular candidates trying to convince an apathetic public to come to the polls and vote them into the most powerful job on the planet.
There have also been surprises at a local level. In particular, the level of new hotel projects announced, on what appears to be almost a daily basis in the local press. There has been limited growth in the market since 2007 and the current boom has come as a bit of a shock.
The recession had a noticeable impact on the sector and Northern Ireland has had a slow and staggered recovery. Finance was a challenge and the sector responded by bolting down the hatches and adopting survival mode. In the main, this worked with limited closures and receiverships.
There are now nearly 30 new hotel projects that we are aware of in the public domain. The bulk of this building boom is in Belfast. The city will see an unprecedented rise of 38% in available rooms by 2018 if all the current projects come to fruition. This could grow by a further 35% by 2020.
It's also a positive picture regionally, with plans to develop gaols, re-inhabit castles and create new resorts. It's great to see this wave of activity - it's a tangible indication of confidence in the sector.
In terms of investment, the private sector will spend around £300m building new hotels by 2018. Again this figure could double by 2020. On the jobs front, each hotel bedroom supports one job. There are currently 7,860 hotel rooms with 8,000 direct jobs.
This would grow to 9,500 by 2018 with the addition of 1,500 rooms. Currently, the industry also supports a further 2,500 indirect jobs and this would rise to over 3,000 in a similar timeframe.
The breadth of new product is breath taking, the scale of growth is remarkable and the potential of the industry is realisable. Unlike Bake Off, hotels can't move to a new location. They offer good sustainable employment prospects and regional economic benefits for all of Northern Ireland.
There are certainly challenges and maybe surprises ahead, but regardless of the outcome, our local hotels will be ready to welcome another President Clinton or the first President Trump - a man who may know a thing or two about hotels.
An image of the proposed Grand Central Hotel in Belfast which will be built on the old Windsor House site