Belfast hotel boss has the recipe for attracting business tourists
Jamie Stinson enjoys a lunchtime catch-up with Rajesh Rana, director of Andras House Group
The changing face of Belfast is a fitting topic for conversation with Rajesh Rana, director of Andras House Group. We meet in Hadskis in the Cathedral Quarter, an area of the city which has undergone radical change in the last decade.
While we eat our 'man food' - short ribs for me and a burger for Rajesh - he is keen to discuss how the city is evolving as a tourism destination, and more lucratively, a business destination.
The 46-year-old son of Lord Rana believes the completion of the Waterfront Hall extension next year will be "a big game changer" in attracting business tourists and conferences.
Andras House Group is made up of five hotels: Ramada Plaza at Shaws Bridge, Holiday Inn Express on University Road, two Ibis hotels and the Days Hotel, off Great Victoria Street. The group also owns Cordia serviced apartments on the Lisburn Road, and three commercial properties.
As Belfast looks to attract more business tourists, Rajesh tells me how Andras is looking to meet the demand for hotel rooms, starting with refurbishing the Ramada.
"We have done a lot of work on the Ramada Plaza to upgrade it just in terms of conference facilities and banqueting, meeting space and bedrooms," he says.
The group's Days Hotel is also currently undergoing a £2m refurbishment that will transform it to an "upmarket international hotel brand to capture our fair share of the conference market".
In 2008, Mr Rana returned to the company his father founded just as the economic crisis took hold. For a decade he worked as an architect in England, after studying at Oxford. Despite the career change, he admits he still thinks like an architect.
His father is still actively involved in the company and despite a lot of travelling in London and India he doesn't skip a beat when it comes to the business's details.
"He has a project in India, a huge education complex so that's kind of his baby at the moment. But he comes back and cracks the whip," says Rajesh
"He has his finger on the pulse when it comes to the figures and always knows our key performance indicators and wage costs."
In next week's Working Lunch, Margaret Canning meets Luke Wolsey of Beannchor Group