Howard Hastings, Chief Executive Officer, Hastings Hotels
Leading Irish hospitality group Hastings Hotels Chief Executive Officer, Howard Hastings, talks to Can Faik on what Hastings Hotels have planned for the next few years…
Founded by Sir William Hastings more than 50 years ago, Hastings Hotels is Northern Ireland’s premier hotel group. The Hastings collection has six luxurious hotels across the province, including the five-star Culloden Estate and Spa, and the world famous Europa hotel.
The Group also owns the four-star Everglades Hotel in Derry/Londonderry – Northern Ireland’s second -largest city, and the historic Ballygally Castle set on the stunning Antrim coast at the gateway to the nine Glens of Antrim.
What was your background in hospitality prior to Hastings Hotels?
For me there was no background in hospitality prior to Hastings Hotels, other than a six-month stint as a commis chef in the Gresham Hotel in Dublin, prior to starting university. Fifty years ago my father was moving the family business from one that concentrated on licenced premises such as pubs to investing in hotels. I’ve grown up in the hospitality business and that involvement from a young age allowed me to gain a good understanding of all levels of the business.
What does your current position involve?
Currently my main focus has been on the continuing and sustainable expansion of Hastings Hotels with our latest project being the exciting opening of Grand Central Hotel in Belfast. Alongside the development of new projects, I also work alongside local food and drink producers and suppliers in order to best showcase Northern Ireland and all it has to offer.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I get to work with my family and I have also had the fortune of seeing how Hastings Hotels has grown as a company since its inception. We have consistently invested in Northern Ireland for the last 50 years. Seeing the destination grow and the increase in visitors from around the world to this beautiful area is one of the highlights for me. Belfast has grown into a cosmopolitan city and a foodie capital that continues to surprise both visitors and locals alike.
How does Hastings Hotels ensure to stay one step ahead of its competition?
At Hastings Hotels we have a long term philosophy to reinvest year on year in our people and our properties, which is why we offer the leading hotels in Northern Ireland. We do not rest on our laurels and have invested more than £10M in recent years. These continuous investment programmes in our six hotels showcase our pride in ensuring we offer our guests the very best facilities and experiences on every visit.
The renovations have included the completion of a £4.8M renovation of the Culloden Estate & Spa and a new £1.5M Grand Ballroom at the Everglades Hotel, which is now the largest facility of its kind in the North West. We have also invested £2M in the Europa including a new entrance and lobby bar as well as £1M in the Stormont Hotel with a new look high-tech conference and event facility, lobby and bar area. And this is all before our latest project!
What are Hastings Hotels Unique Selling Points?
I believe being family owned gives us an edge, because of the authenticity and individuality we bring to each hotel. This, and the mission we have to constantly reinvest in every one of our properties. We work hard on sourcing local produce, and concentrate on showcasing the paintings and sculptures of local artists. These are the things that enable our staff to tell our local stories and allow guests to immerse themselves in the locations of each of our hotels.
What is next for Hastings Hotels in terms of new openings?
The big focus for Hastings Hotels in 2018 will be the launch in Belfast of the Grand Central Hotel in June 2018. At 23 stories, it is the tallest commercial building in Ireland. The original Grand Central was built in 1893 and was the thriving hub of Victorian Belfast as well as the finest hotel in Ireland. Winston Churchill, the King of Belgium, Al Jolson, Mario Lanza and the Beatles were all guests who enjoyed its luxurious hospitality. With a £53M investment, this new incarnation of the Grand Central represents our company’s biggest single investment to date and is the sum required to create a top-quality hotel befitting the name and one Belfast City can be proud of. We are looking forward to the continued growth of the tourism and hospitality sector in Belfast.
What have been some of the key trends in travel to Northern Ireland would you say? Which do you think will make a big impact in the next few years?
The growth of tourism to Northern Ireland has seen a significant rise in recent years, with global interest following HBO’s Game of Thrones and a growing awareness of the incredible foodie scene and natural beauty of the area. From Bushmills Whiskey to Titanic Belfast, the variety of activities on offer has seen growth across all travel sectors. The most interesting travel trend I think is the resurgence of self-driving holidays. Northern Ireland has been recognised as home to some of the most beautiful drives in the world and as such we see visitors coming for the buzz of Belfast and then touring around the stunning ocean drives to explore all the hidden gems of Northern Ireland.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?
Today’s design trends are dependent on catering to each guest and their preferred way of travel. In a continuously digital age where everyone is a photographer, hotels need to ensure that the surroundings, furnishings, dishes, amenities are all aesthetically pleasing. The millennial generation want a feeling of homeliness but with the luxuries of someone taking care of you. Finding the right balance between privacy and the possibility to create interesting new encounters is key. Good design is not only restricted to the eye, we also acknowledge the importance of tantalising all five senses. For example we have heavily invested over the last few years in ensuring our guests receive the most comfortable night’s sleep possible in our legendary cloud beds.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
Design is very important. Hastings Hotels acknowledges that a pleasing and welcoming design is the first introduction a guest has to the hotel and paves the way for the concept of the hotel and the experience that awaits. This was a key consideration when undergoing our biggest single investment to date into the new opening of the 300-bed Grand Central Hotel. Customer expectations rise inexorably every year and investing in our people and our properties is the only way in which we can stay ahead.
If you weren’t a hotelier in Northern Ireland, is there another country in the world you would like to open a property?
I enjoy living close to our properties, so you are asking me where I would like to live, if not in Northern Ireland (which is hard to imagine!). The advantage of operating in this part of the world is that Hastings Hotels can own and operate sizeable and cosmopolitan properties, yet I live overlooking the sea in leafy tranquillity, only twenty minutes from my office. Where else could offer that? Perhaps the readers might offer me suggestions.
Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
It’s always challenging to maintain a work life balance, I’m very lucky that my position involves working alongside my family on a daily basis.