This time it's personal... A few questions for Lord Rana
Q. Do you prefer the town or country, and why?
A. We are very fortunate that Northern Ireland has such beautiful countryside, as well as vibrant towns and cities.
I have spent 49 years of my life here and am committed to the place. My business activities are a witness to my commitment to the community. I have carried out a lot of business in Belfast city and it is a place that I love — some might say my heart lies here.
Q. How has the hotel and hospitality sector in NI changed in the last 10 years?
A. It has seen good times and bad. I have been investing in this sector for many, many years. In 2003, I was labelled “mad in the head” when I built a 244-room budget hotel on a derelict site backing on to Belfast’s Sandy Row.
That hotel operated until July this year as a hugely successful Days Hotel — today it is the newest hotel in our portfolio — The Holiday Inn, Belfast City Centre, which we invested £2.5m in upgrading and refurbishing — the result is outstanding.
We invested a lot in the local hotel market in the recession, including the construction of two new Ibis Hotels in 2009 and a renovation of Holiday Inn Express Belfast City — Queen’s Quarter in 2010. I am glad to say the hotel and hospitality sector in Northern Ireland has improved beyond anybody’s expectations and in my opinion that is set to continue.
Q. How do you foresee it growing in the next decade? Where and how will the business expand?
A. Northern Ireland is blessed with the most outstanding natural environmental beauty and its people’s warm-hearted welcome is an asset for developing tourism. We have definite plans to expand, with planning permission lodged for a new 179 bedroom £12m hotel in Belfast city centre. We have permission to build a £10m hotel and shop complex on the site of Londonderry’s former Tillie & Henderson shirt factory — giving us a site outside Belfast.
Andras Hotels has invested £13m in the past five years and has a £20m programme for further growth, which will continue to supply much-needed bedrooms for the local tourism market.
Q. Have you any advice for anyone trying to reach director level in the sector?
A. Select your goal carefully and then put your energy, heart and soul into it. Don’t be put off by any hurdles.
Q. What was the last book that you read and what was it like?
A. Bhagavad Gita — truly divine, it’s the best book to guide you through life in this world. It sums up the whole philosophy of life.
Q. What was your last holiday? What will be next?
A. I was recently in the USA, and the next would be Kerala, south India.
Q. What is your favourite band/album or piece of music, and why?
A. Punjabi folk music and Bhangra dance, which are very akin to Irish dance and Irish drum beats.
Q. What is your favourite sport and team? Have you ever played any sports?
A. I played hockey in my younger days in India, but coming here I did not get any time to pursue any sports. Family and work have always been my first priorities.