French firm denies it is to pull out of hotel deal due to disorder
Hotel giant Accor insists it still intends to open a new hotel in central Belfast this summer – despite the upheaval over the flag protests in recent weeks.
The European company has denied claims that were made at a Stormont committee yesterday that it was considering pulling out of the project.
Belfast Chamber of Commerce president Joe Jordan said the French firm was contemplating withdrawing from its lease for the planned hotel on Dublin Road "purely based on the last nine weeks" and perceptions fuelled by global media coverage.
"If you listen to the media, next to Syria is Northern Ireland," Mr Jordan told members of the enterprise, trade and industry committee.
"Accor hotels are now saying to me that they want to pull out of the lease...we have lawyers working on that at the minute.
"They are trying to get loopholes to get out of this agreement and the whole reason... is purely based on the last nine weeks."
But an Accor spokesperson told the Belfast Telegraph: "We can confirm that Accor will be opening a third hotel in Belfast this summer and has other development projects."
Accor's other two bases in Belfast are Ibis hotels in Castle Street and in studentland at University Street.
Meanwhile, it also emerged retail bosses are urging a noon deadline for future flag protests.
Mr Jordan said all marches and demonstrations should have a 12pm cut-off point to ensure shops – and shoppers – have a trouble-free afternoon. He added: "It is the frequency, and the timing, of the protests which has hit the economy so hard."
However, officials from the chamber, which represents around 400 businesses in the city, also revealed the We're Backin' Belfast campaign is working well.
Mr Jordan said that a week before the council-funded campaign began, business had been down by 37% compared with a year ago, but on the first weekend that was reduced to just 3%.
DUP committee members Robin Newton, who is also a Belfast councillor, and Gordon Dunne said the presentation from the Chamber of Commerce had been "too negative" since a lot had been done – including £600,000 from the Executive and £400,000 from the council – to help retailers.
North Down MLA Mr Dunne said the image of Northern Ireland across the world had been "exploited and abused" by the media.
The Stormont Executive provided £600,000 and Belfast City Council a further £400,000 on the advertising campaign We're Backin' Belfast, which is now in its third week. It came after trade in the city centre plummeted in the aftermath of protests over the decision by Belfast City Council to switch from year-round displays of the Union flag to designated days only.