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No room at the inn... post-Brexit business booming for Belfast hotels in the run-up to Christmas

By Claire McNeilly

Published 17/11/2016

The Europa
The Europa
Hilton Hotel, Belfast
Julie Hastings of the Hastings group

Fancy spending a weekend in Belfast in the run-up to Christmas? Well, good luck with trying to find a hotel room.

Demand is surging, choice is limited and industry insiders have said you'll pay £160 upwards a night for a room in a mid-range establishment - and over £200 for luxury lodgings.

Indeed, this festive period is expected to be the most lucrative ever in the local hotel trade as businesses cash in on a huge post-Brexit surge in demand.

The city's main establishments are reporting record occupancy levels and most have been sold out at weekends in November for some time.

Europa Hotel general manager James McGinn told the Belfast Telegraph: "Rates are pretty strong and robust. There will be very, very few rooms selling at under £100.

"Christmas started very early at the Europa this year. We've had guests attending international conferences and concerts, and coming for leisure breaks from the Republic and elsewhere in Northern Ireland. Friday and Saturday nights are at a premium."

That's partly due to visitors from the South taking advantage of a weaker pound, but the influx of 'overnighters' has also been driven by events such as switching on the Christmas lights this Saturday and the arrival of the Continental Market this weekend.

Northern Ireland Hotels Federation chief executive Janice Gault said Saturdays were especially popular.

"All weekend hotel occupancy has been around 90% in Belfast and we think that will be the case right up until Christmas," she said.

"There are a lot of varied events taking place in different areas which are boosting visitor numbers - concerts, awards nights, normal weekend trade as well as pre-Christmas shows, shopping, Santa and pantomimes." The aftermath of the EU vote has seen an increase in visitors coming from the Republic with money to spend, but Christmas has always been a strong market for the hotel industry here because of domestic support, including parties and corporate events.

Area general manager at Hilton Northern Ireland Mark Walker said November has been a strong month.

"The last few weekends have been full and because the Christmas market is starting this weekend, the main hotels across Belfast are already fully booked," he said.

"December is always busy with shoppers from across Northern Ireland and the Republic - and although we aren't fully booked yet, it's filling up.

"The combination of shopping, events at the Waterfront Hall and SSE Arena mean it could be difficult to get a room if you leave it too late." It's a similar story across the rest of the province with Hastings Hotels reporting a staggering 95% year-on-year increase in people from the South visiting its websites in search of rooms.

Apart from the Europa on Belfast's Great Victoria Street, the group owns the Stormont Hotel in the east of the city, the Culloden in Cultra near Holywood, the Everglades in Londonderry, Ballygally Castle on the Antrim coast, and Slieve Donard in Newcastle.

Hastings Hotels marketing director Julie Hastings said that November has been an excellent month for all six of its premises.

"The amount of people visiting our website from the Republic of Ireland post-Brexit has increased by 74% since June this year. Previously that was down 21% year-on-year," she said.

"Traffic to our website from the USA has also increased by 18%, and the staycation market is also performing very well.

"There is no doubt that the Brexit effect has had an impact on these figures."

The Hastings group also owns the currently under construction Grand Central, which will be one of Belfast's biggest when it is opened.

Belfast Telegraph

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