Dalata boss remains upbeat about Brexit as Belfast city hotel opens
The head of Ireland's largest hotel operator has said he is "cautiously optimistic" about Brexit's effect on tourism, but admits he has "no idea" how the process will turn out.
Dalata Hotel Group boss Pat McCann was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph ahead of the opening for the new Maldron Hotel in Belfast city centre next month.
The four-star hotel on Brunswick Street, which is creating 110 jobs, represents a £24m investment by Dalata Group and is the company's first new-build hotel in nine years.
With much uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the effect it may have on the tourist trade across Ireland, Mr McCann said: "In terms of what Brexit might and might not do, I'll be perfectly honest: I have no idea," he said.
"We don't know what we are looking at in the long-term and how Brexit will turn out. My worry for a company like Dalata is that we sit on our hands and do nothing.
"Sometime the longer you do that, the worse it is for business.
"When I'm looking at the UK over the next four years, I have assumed no growth at all in the market, none whatsoever, and we adjust our models accordingly.
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"If a project meets the criteria, we go ahead with it. If it doesn't, we don't. But you have to be cautious. Cautiously optimistic, that's how I feel about the whole Brexit business."
The new Maldron Hotel has 237 bedrooms and five boardrooms and is just one of several hotels coming to Belfast in the next few years.
A total of 1,060 rooms are expected to open this year, with 61% of these in new hotels and 39% in extensions or conversions.
According to research by estate agent Savills, by 2020 just three operators - Hastings, Dalata and Andras House - will control close to half of all hotel rooms in the city.
Those currently being built include the 304-bedroom Grand Central on Bedford Street, the new Hampton by Hilton at Hope Street, and the AC by Marriott at City Quays.
But the Dalata boss said he is not worried about the supply of hotel rooms in Belfast outweighing the demand.
"A city of the size of Belfast, it's not done with hotel rooms. If Northern Ireland is going to grow its tourism offering they need their key city to have capacity. If there's no capacity, the people won't come - it's as simple as that," he said.
"Honestly, I don't see supply outweighing the demand. The way the market is going, I think the new rooms will get absorbed very quickly in the process.
"Looking forward everything is in robust, good order for 2018. Looking at the booking patterns in our other hotels and the future trajectory, I'm not concerned at all."
Mr McCann also said the current impasse at Stormont is not what business needs in the context of other pressures. "Obviously for all business, what we love is stability and a sense of direction," he said.
"We are all craving that at the minute. While we're not going to get into any political debate about it, it would always be our preference to have a strong and stable government delivering for the economy, which we simply don't have right now."
Founded in 2007, Dalata Hotel Group is Ireland's largest hotel operator and has a current portfolio of 38 hotels with more than 7,700 rooms.