Hampton brings a splash of colour to Belfast

Hospitality in Belfast enjoyed another first in July when Hampton by Hilton opened the doors on a new £12m, 178-bedroom hotel just off Great Victoria Street.

Serving the upper mid-market, the new Hampton by Hilton in Belfast is typical of the colourful, casual approach that this brand adopts around the world. Decorated in bold, bright colours, the hotel encourages guests to interact with each other by seamlessly integrating its lobby, dining and bar facilities on its busy ground floor.

Now one of Hilton’s most successful brands, Hampton by Hilton has more than 2,340 properties in 21 countries. The new Belfast venue – operated by Andras Hotels – is its first on the island of Ireland.

Speaking to LCN recently, Andreas director, Rajesh Rana, said that he was very excited to be bringing the brand to NI:

“Hilton sees Belfast as a key market and they are delighted to be placing their flag in our great city,” he added.

Andras bought the compact site at Hope Street in 2014 specifically for this project. It further diversifies the Andras offering within Belfast, where it already operates five branded hotels – the Holiday Inn Express; Holiday Inn, Belfast City Centre; two Ibis Hotels and the Crowne Plaza at Shaw’s Bridge.

“The fundamentals in the city are good,” added Rajesh. “We now have the Waterfront Hall bringing in major conference business and good inward investment that’s attracting a lot of visitors and corporates to the city. All of that helps us in terms of bedroom sales.

“The film industry is very important to us too. Game of Thrones and others book a lot of rooms when they come into the city to film and so for us, and the city generally, that’s still very much a growth area.”

In terms of the new Hampton by Hilton, Rajesh remarked that it was “very much a case of making hay while the sun shines”:

“The market has been very good for us in the last year, but we are coming off a very low base,” he added. “Tourism was sinking each year from 2008. Then, in 2012, things began to pick up again and last year was actually quite good for us.

Hampton by Hilton takes its place within a local hotel sector that has seen frenetic growth this year already. In the weeks before the Andras opening, Hastings Hotels unveiled its much-anticipated, 300-bed Grand Central on nearby Bedford Street, Marriott made its Irish debut with the AC Hotel at Belfast Harbour and the design-led Flint Hotel opened at Howard Street. More than 1000 additional rooms have been added to the market here since January.

“The growth we’re seeing at the moment is good for the city and we’re starting to see the effect of these new rooms on occupancy levels,” added Rajesh, although he did also sound a note of caution. “The Waterfront Hall needs these extra rooms in order to sell its conference space, but to be honest, I don’t think there is a lot of headroom left for more. I wouldn’t be rushing to build any more new hotel rooms just now and I don’t think the banks are going to be running in to finance any more new hotel builds at this stage. Perhaps in a couple of year’s time again, but not now.”

Rajesh said that feedback at the Hampton by Hilton had been positive:

“People particularly love our lobby which is colourful and welcoming,” he added. “And they love the breakfasts, which are a major selling point with this brand.”

Hilton promotes the Hampton brand on the back of its perceived ‘personality’ – they call it ‘Hampton-ality’ – and it strives to ensure that the focus stays on a warm welcome and good interaction between guests and staff. It’s an uncomplicated operating model that offers simple comforts, big, hearty breakfasts and a food offering which, while limited, is available 24/7.

“Hilton really knows how to drive revenue,” added Rajesh. “They are very strong on their marketing and brand recognition and very strong on corporate sales. They can help us negotiate contracts with national and international accounts and their rewards scheme is very popular among travellers.”

Contractors are currently running through the snagging process at the new hotel. This will be complete by mid to late August and Rajesh said that after that, the focus will be on establishing the brand:

“A new hotel takes about three years to establish itself and it’s going to be all about that process,” he added. “We want to be sure that we build a base of regular customers who are going to come back and see us and while it takes a while for Trip Advisor to follow through, we want to get ourselves into the top 10 hotels in Belfast.”

Rajesh admits that while Andras has a prominent and well diversified presence in Belfast, it is less well represented elsewhere in Northern Ireland. However, the group is working to change that.

It currently has plans for a £6.6m, 87-bedroom hotel in Portrush on the site of the former Londonderry Hotel. Plans for the new development are currently with planners and Rajesh said that he hoped to have a decision within the next couple of months.

The façade of the old hotel on Main Street is to be preserved and an extension at the rear of the building will accommodate the new development. Andras also hopes to secure permission to convert the former bank building on the other side of the street into luxury apartments.

However there have been well over 200 objections to the group’s plans in the resort town, most of them centred on the impact it will have on parking availability locally and the anticipated loss of the Atlantic Live Lounge music venue, which currently rents part of the building earmarked for the new hotel.

Rajesh told LCN that Andras’s plans for the Portrush venue were “an attempt to secure the best of both worlds”:

“We want to preserve the heritage of this old building and the street scape around it while providing more of the modern accommodation that the north coast really needs. That area is crying out for bedrooms at the moment,” he added.

“I understand the objections that people have to this. I think that what they are most concerned about is the loss of a music venue, but that was always a stop-gap use for this building, these buildings were built as hotels in the 19th century and have operated as such for 80 years or more. That’s something we want to see continuing.”

Rajesh also revealed that unlike Andras’s Belfast hotels, the new north coast property will not carry international branding. While the big names were useful in Belfast when it came to securing international and corporate business, he said, that was much less the case elsewhere in NI. Instead, the new Portrush hotel will adopt a much more bespoke, boutique approach in its branding.

And as for the future generally, Rajesh said that within the next three years, he hoped to see the completion of both the Portrush hotel and another that the group plans to establish in the old Tillie and Henderson factory building at Abdercorn Road in Derry-Londonderry. He would also like to have completed work on an office block development that Andras is planning at Bedford Street in Belfast. He hopes to begin work on that next year.

“Other than that, it’s going to be all about consolidation of everything that we have and continuing to develop the good reputation and service at our existing hotels,” he added.

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