Belfast Telegraph

Hotel room stock up by 91% since Good Friday Agreement with more openings this year

By Emma Deighan

The opening of the AC Marriott Hotel in Belfast this month will see Northern Ireland rooms break the 8,500 threshold, the Northern Ireland Hotel Federation (NIHF) has said.

The hospitality body said that in the two decades since the Good Friday Agreement the number of hotel rooms available here had almost doubled - with an increase of 91%.

Back in 1998 there were 4,903 hotel rooms on the market. However, when the AC Marriott at City Quays opens later this month, there will be 8,577 rooms for sale in Northern Ireland.

Other new openings in the first few months of the year include the Maldron Hotel in Belfast.

Janice Gault, chief executive of the NIHF, said: "Last year was strong with consolidation in occupancy, growth in room rates and good trading conditions.

"We had a number of new openings and expansions over the course of 2017 and this expansion is set to ramp up in 2018 with two new properties already opened in the first quarter.

"We have had a reasonable start to the year with reports suggesting that Easter has held up well."

Ms Gault said that a boost in tourism saw significant investment in the sector with £500m spent on new hotels and a further £100m in refurbishments and upgrades in recent years.

Among the new hotels set to launch this year is Hastings' £53m, 300-bed Grand Central Hotel on Bedford Street, due to open in June, and the 81-bed easyHotel off Howard Street.

New stock will also be added this year as the five-star Fitzwilliam Hotel gets set to add 18 new rooms and a spa and gym facility. And growth outside of Belfast is just as fast-paced.

In Londonderry there are now 685 rooms and the Holiday Inn Express would see an additional 119 added to the city's offering. This is an increase of 27% in two years.

And on the north coast the prospect of the Open golf championship in 2019 is driving expansion with three projects including The Londonderry Hotel, the Merrow Hotel and Spa and the Dunluce.

Ms Gault said job numbers will have grown by 25% in the sector by the end of 2018 as a result of new rooms.

"It is important to note that hotel growth brings benefits to the wider hospitality industry. Increased guest numbers will bring more visitors to attractions and increase the number of meals and drinks consumed in local bars and restaurants allowing these businesses to grow and prosper," she said.

"More visitors and increased room sales are a really good news story for Northern Ireland."

Staff and skill shortages still plague the sector warned the NIHF.

It said the growth in the number of hotels here coupled with competition from other sectors and a reduction in the number of EU workers have "exacerbated an already difficult situation".

Ms Gault added: "The NIHF is working with a number of partners on addressing this situation but we recognise that as an industry, there are issues with image and we must adapt to the needs of an evolving society."

Belfast Telegraph

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