Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Lough Erne: Luxury Co Fermanagh golf resort is 'snapped up by an American billionaire'

Summit setting: Lough Erne Resort hosted the G8 leaders in 2013
The G8 leaders

Fermanagh's luxury Lough Erne golf resort is facing a more secure future after it was snapped up by an American billionaire, according to reports.

The five-star hotel, which enjoyed global exposure when it hosted the G8 summit last year, is understood to have been bought by well-known Chicago businessman Tony Saliba, who is also an avid golf fan.

The resort opened in 2007 amid much fanfare but was placed in administration in 2011. While it has traded well since it opened, the adminstrators were called in because of debts held by its owning company. Now Lough Erne's future looks more secure after an apparent breakthrough in the hunt for a new owner.

While it was initially put on the market for £10 – just a third of its initial worth – it was reported Mr Saliba has bought it for between £5m and £6m. However, yesterday's Sunday Business Post reported another source saying it had gone for closer to £8m.

A spokeswoman for the Lough Erne Resort yesterday told the Belfast Telegraph there was no confirmation of a sale. It is understood, however, the final legal processes are still being sorted.

Mr Saliba is a former market trader dubbed in those circles as the 'Market Wizard'. His wealthy family are believed to be major golf fans, playing to semi-pro level, which may explain their interest in the Lough Erne Resort. Chicago may be thousands of miles from Northern Ireland, but the Sunday Business Post reported the Saliba family have been advised by Timothy Kane of Tralee Portfolio Management, an aggregator of nursing and residential facility operators in the US.

Mr Saliba was one of the first young traders in option selling back in the 1980s when the financial derivatives were a brand new concept. He was dubbed one of America's 'Market Wizards' in a 1987 bestseller of that name.

John Hansen and Stuart Irwin of KPMG were appointed joint administrators when the hotel left its original ownership in 2011. They immediately stated it was their intention to secure future bookings for the resort and ultimately to sell it as a going concern.

The resort got a boost last year after hosting the G8 summit.

World leaders from US President Barack Obama to German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended the conference at which Prime Minister David Cameron famously swam in Lough Erne.

Fergal Purcell, then manager at Lough Erne who has since left, said after the event bookings increased three-fold and the resort remained on the market.

Lough Erne Resort boasts a golf course designed by Sir Nick Faldo. It includes a hotel with 120 rooms, two 18-hole golf courses, Thai spa, golf village holiday homes and a golf academy all set on the 345-acre site.

It was placed in administration in 2011 after Bank of Scotland was closed down by Lloyds Banking Group, which then called in debts of around £25m by developers Castle Hume Leisure. The resort has traded continually since.

The resort won Irish Golf Tour Operators Golf Resort of the Year in 2010 and best hotel at the 36th Northern Ireland Tourism Awards earlier this year.

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