The hotel industry is constantly evolving. We spoke to a top CEO about the future of the industry and the big trends that are changing it.

The Hastings family bought their first property fifty years ago for only £100,000. Now they have a hotel group and provide luxury accommodation from the rich and famous. Guests have included Sir Richard Attenborough and David Beckham.

We chatted to Howard Hastings about the family run empire and how the hotel industry is changing.

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Howard Hastings (left) with his family

On history

“Fifty years ago my father was moving the family business from one that concentrated on licenced premises (pubs) to investing in hotels,” Hastings explains. “My father was impressed by the The Culloden Hotel’s magnificent setting when it came on the market. He decided to purchase the hotel for £100,000. Now fifty years on, and all that reinvestment shows. The Mitre Restaurant is still thriving, and so are the two major banqueting suites. The former Bishop’s Palace has had two bedroom blocks added and now has 97 opulent bedrooms. Then there is an eight treatment room Espa spa, and a stand alone hunting lodge style grill bar in the grounds, called the Cultra Inn.”

On keeping the past alive

“Heritage hotels bring their own in-built history,” says Hastings, “as their use as hotels allows our guests to be part of our “living history”. It is sometimes difficult to meet present day customer expectations in a property not designed for that purpose. However we have not resisted the investment required to ensure every room is properly sized and equipped, because it is not just expected, but demanded from today’s discerning customer.”

The Hastings Hotels brand mixes “heritage with city chic” according to Hastings. We “often talk about our “sense of style”. I think that phrase captures what we offer to our visitors, is irrespective of when the hotel was built.”

On design

“It is not all about keeping our hotels “fresh”, though I abhor any sign of worn carpets or frayed soft furnishings. There are design trends that we have to follow, such as that customers like large showers, big comfortable beds and the latest televisions in their rooms. All guests also expect a good wifi service. Then dining trends have become more informal, though traditional uniforms are expected in heritage properties. Things that guests may not immediately notice, such as a new air-conditioning system or high-tech kitchens can be just as important as what guests do see, because they are all essential for creating the luxury offering they expect.”

On investing in the future

“We bought an office block in the centre of Belfast last year,” Howard tells us. “At 22 stories, it is the tallest commercial building in Ireland. And, towering as it does over Belfast City Hall, it is located very centrally and is an ideal location for a hotel. The finished product will be complete next year, and will have 300 bedrooms. The entire project represents an investment of over £50 million. And we are reviving the name of the finest of the heritage hotels in Belfast. When complete, our new venture will be named The Grand Central Hotel.”

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