Big Interview: Tom Smyth - 'I will start my day at 5am with a gratitude list and I'll stay away from all kinds of news ... especially Brexit'

The Big Interview: Tom Smyth

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Dream Apartments chief Tom Smyth in one of the Dream Pods rooms

Dream Apartments chief Tom Smyth in one of the Dream Pods rooms

Dream Apartments chief Tom Smyth outside the premises in Belfast city centre

Dream Apartments chief Tom Smyth outside the premises in Belfast city centre

Tom Smyth near the Obel building in Belfast, where Dream Apartments began

Tom Smyth near the Obel building in Belfast, where Dream Apartments began

Stephen Hamilton

Dream Apartments chief Tom Smyth in one of the Dream Pods rooms

Tom Smyth is an advocate of positive thinking. He's a believer that exercising gratitude is the foundation on which to build a happy, and in his case, successful life. It's a mindset that has served him well.

Tom, a father-of-two, is the man behind private accommodation and serviced apartments firm Dream Apartments.

He's also one part of a development firm that is creating a £2.5m residential scheme on the fringes of the new Tribeca project in Belfast.

According to Mr Smyth, the Gardiner Square development will help grow city centre living and offer investors guaranteed rental return.

Dream Apartments is just one part of Tom's working life. He set up the business three years ago in Belfast to service the growing leisure and business tourism sector, as well as catering to the longer-staying visitor.

Today Dream Apartments has expanded beyond the Obel building where it began and into other parts of Belfast.

It's also made a move to other UK cities including Liverpool and Newcastle, while partnerships have seen it take up residence in places like Sao Paulo and New York.

It has also branched out into a more economical offering called Dream Pods.

They can be found in Bank Square in the city and provide basic accommodation including bunk beds.

As for his personal philosophy, he says: "I think we could all do with living our lives with gratitude.

"If you look around, you'll soon see how fortunate you are.

"I had to remind my daughter recently about how lucky she was to have an iPhone. I told her when I was 10 I would've had to work 50 weeks to be able to buy that phone, and you could see it sinking in when she heard that."

Tom admits that he doesn't listen to the news and he shuns anything Brexit-related to ensure he remains focused on his own goals.

"I don't give Brexit any energy," he adds. "I think it's a load of nonsense but I would really love to see our MLAs evolve and form to help the growth of Northern Ireland.

"They need to stand back and realise it's for the prosperity of Northern Ireland. Everyone needs to get to work or they're holding the country back from expanding and prospering."

Tom's day begins at 5am when he writes a gratitude list and outlines his goals. That is followed by a trip to the gym, all before the working day begins.

But it isn't just his morning routine that has attributed to the success of his business - it's also an inbuilt "savviness" he's had from his childhood.

Tom grew up in Glengormley with his brother, sister and parents. His mum was care worker and his dad was a postman.

"They didn't have 2d to rub together but I had an amazing childhood and decided from an early age that I wanted more.

"I also knew that if I worked hard that effort would produce rewards."

Tom studied at Glengormley High School and went on to take up a leisure and management course at Castlereagh Tech, which is now part of Belfast Met.

"I always had that savviness. People would say I could sell sand to the Arabs and make money out of nothing. It was just there.

"I grew up with a burning desire to succeed and I think that's either in you or it's not. I was 10 when I began working in a chippy. I stayed there for five years, throughout school," he says.

After tech Tom got involved in the building trade, which is still part of his daily business. He says construction helped him to raise capital, after which the rest of his working life "has been a flash".

"I worked in construction and then got into the property market. I went to work in Dubai before it was a really popular tourist destination, and saw what they were doing there with serviced apartments. That fuelled enthusiasm in me to expand and do other things," he says.

He came back from Dubai and started working with Apple Apartments in Belfast.

In June 2017 he went it alone with the launch of Dream Apartments, a business that he says he is "incredibly proud of".

Dream Apartments have more than 350 apartments across the UK, with many more available globally through partnerships in Barcelona, Sao Paulo, America and Paris.

Recently Tom has also opened up his own serviced apartments which provided the inspiration for the business in Dubai.

The Dubai operation opened at the end of 2019, when 300 luxury serviced apartments flowed onto the accommodation market there.

Located in the Jumeirah Beach Residence Marina, they feature a range of one, two and three-bedroom luxury apartments.

"To launch in the place where the idea for Dream Apartments was born is simply a dream come true," says Tom. "The people of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates are to be applauded for their approach to business and the willingness of the local government to welcome foreign investment such as ours. We plan to lead the Dubai market," he adds.

Tom says his client base is 70:30 business/leisure with some of his guests including famous actors to two-time Oscar winning directors who stay for an average of 20 days in some locations.

"I'd say we would sign around 10 non-disclosure agreements a year in Belfast," he reveals.

"The thing about a serviced apartment is that it gives a home from home feeling where you can cook your own breakfast, watch television, have a conference call and then you can fall back into the bedroom.

"It appeals to many visitors because it's better than being in a boxed room.

"We have guests who want to stay with us because they get the privacy they need. Nobody knows who they are and they can slip in and out. They're able to have a daily routine like ride a mountain bike to work.

"They've a living room and a bedroom and it's this type of guest that is moving away from hotels.

"It's also more economical so it's a win-win."

In Belfast Dream Apartments have five separate offerings including the Obel building, the Gallery on the Dublin Road and Titanic Arc.

And Tom isn't finished with expansion plans here.

He's says he's really only getting started.

Next on the agenda, as part of the construction operation he heads, is the new scheme on Gardiner Street. Gardiner Square will sit on the outskirts of the Tribeca regeneration project.

It will be a mixed residential offering featuring two-bedroom apartments, as well as three-bedroom townhouses with associated car parking and amenities.

Tom heads the company behind the scheme with business partner Gary Sinnerton.

He says: "Belfast city centre is definitely underpopulated because of the Troubles. I think the City Council should make hay while the sun shines and expand on city living."

He reveals that his Gardiner Street site is "well ahead of schedule and due to finish ahead of November 2020".

"We want to create a thriving community targeting a range of sectors from young professionals, to property investors to people relocating to the city centre for work.

"Home is so important and we understand that people want and deserve comfort, convenience and community, and in Gardiner Square, we are offering all these things and more.

"The Gardiner Square project is located on the fringes of the hugely exciting Tribeca project which will combine the regions heritage with cutting-edge design to create a dynamic mixed-use space for people to live and work," Tom adds.

"All of this will be within walking distance to the new homes."

Elsewhere Tom is looking to bring Dream Apartments to Derry. And, subject to planning, 44 serviced apartments will launch there in May.

"This project will feature our Dream Pods and it will work well. I love Derry and every time I go there it's full of tourists, by the busload.

"We also have a great corporate market there, so this is a perfect move for us," he says. Other sites due to open this year include one in Middlesbrough.

"If the opportunity comes along we'll open more. We're always looking," says Tom who employs around 115 people across his UK operations.

At the recent World Travel Awards 2019, Dream Apartments Belfast was awarded the title of Northern Ireland's Leading Serviced Apartments for the third consecutive year.

It's an award that Tom hopes to beckon for the sites he's opened elsewhere.

He anticipates demand for his accommodation will grow in line with the changing demands of travellers.

Tom adds: "Our success is in part down to a change in how many business and leisure travellers approach their travel arrangements, preferring the home from home experience to the more formal hotel offering.

"I'm so proud of our city.

"I'm so proud to be doing what I'm doing and I'm proud to represent the corporate market.

"I'm so delighted that our country has come through conflict resolution and we have something to give in terms of tourism and it's definitely great to be part of that," he says.

Belfast Telegraph