Belfast Telegraph

'This was a very different place to be 20 years ago'

By Howard Hastings

"When we bought the Europa Hotel in 1992 the windows had hardboard on them. Northern Ireland was a very different place 20 years ago and it was the ceasefires in 1994 that began to change things.

Nobody wanted to be in the city centre as that was where the bombs went off. The hotels on the outskirts were more successful. The social fabric of society was very poor.

The ceasefires arrived and we had to think about what would attract people to Northern Ireland and make them think differently about it.

Things like the new visitor centre at the Giant's Causeway, the MTV awards in Belfast and the Titanic Belfast opening really put the spotlight on the new Belfast.

But 2012 was the year that moved the dial. It was tricky enough when the economic downturn came but what helped us was that sterling was weak and euro strong, so it attracted people to come for shopping and things like dental work.

That gave us a bit of a soft landing.

Also, the former Chancellor reduced VAT from 17.5% to 15%.

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Expansion here was never really that bad.

By and large hotels here kept their doors open. Also, so many of the businesses are family-owned, like ourselves, so that helped as families tend to have a longer view on investments.

You have that sense that you are embedded in your community and also the community supports you. Hastings Hotels has grown over the years and we are now delighted to have just over 1,000 bedrooms in NI for the first time."

Belfast Telegraph