Belfast Telegraph

History has proved him right in seeing future for tourism despite Troubles

By John Simpson

Billy Hastings (later to become Sir William) was a critical tutor for a young academic like me with a deep suspicion about the potential merits of a growing tourist sector.

Looking back to the brave decisions which he was to make, Billy had the gift of starting 'from the worst of times, to make decisions for the best of times'.

Billy Hastings was a formidable opponent. At the time when he decided to buy the Europa Hotel, it symbolised so much of the toil and trouble of living in Northern Ireland. We argued whether he had done the right thing. How would he make a living based partly on repairing and maintaining the 'most bombed hotel anywhere in Europe'. History has given him the reward of being right. As the years progressed, our argument became less forceful. Occasionally a barbed reminder of how he was doing would put this older academic back in his place. A failure that I am happy to acknowledge.

Billy started his pathway to success with the minor advantage of a very modest silver spoon. His family were small part players in what would now be called the hospitality trades: he had first-hand experience of the pub business.

The Hastings Hotels group has been a path-breaker in the emergence of globally competitive hospitality services which serve Northern Ireland well.

He originally bought a small group of hotels with a history of traditional ownership, sometimes linked to the former railway companies or the Grand Met group. Over time his estate and its hotel services have set the improving standard that Northern Ireland has needed.

In the modern world, so dominated by large international brand-name hotels, the success of Billy continues to lie in the high standards offered by family controlled units, now capped by the pending regeneration of the Grand Central: a revival of a pre-Troubles name in a post-Troubles environment.

Belfast Telegraph

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