Monday 25 June 2018

Marriott betting on Belfast for first Irish opening of AC brand

Lisa Steele, general manager of the AC Hotel by Marriott in Belfast, which opens this spring.
Lisa Steele, general manager of the AC Hotel by Marriott in Belfast, which opens this spring.
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

Belfast is keen to attract a Dublin-style boost from Brexit, but the city has had a similar problem to the capital up to now - a lack of hotel offerings, particularly on peak dates and around key events.

Now the North's biggest city is to get just over 900 new hotel rooms this year, providing a boost for the cross-border business traveller.

What's interesting is that one of the big global operators - Marriott - is dipping its toe in the Irish market with its AC Hotels brand. Opening this April, the Belfast property is the brand's first purpose-built hotel in the UK or Ireland, its first property on the island too.

General manager Lisa Steele told this column that "business travellers are a particular target for the hotel and we would expect around a third of our guests to come from the corporate travel sector".

The brand, little-known here, is well established in the Americas and Europe, with over 100 properties in 10 countries.

One big advantage for corporate bookers is the fact that the hotel is part of the Marriott Rewards loyalty scheme, in which over 4,600 hotels worldwide participate.

Those signing up get free standard in-room wifi (a bigger plus when travelling to parts of the States where paid connectivity is still an issue), and perks can build up to automatic room upgrades, airline miles, points or lounge access.

Steele added that the £25m hotel will be one of the city's largest, with 188 bedrooms. She felt that as "business travellers know exactly what they like when they're on the road", the hotel is targeting them with "ease, simplicity, style and comfort" with a gym, library, meeting facilities and the signature AC Lounge, an open space geared towards work as well as relaxation.

The hotel - part of the growing City Quay development, close to conference facilities - will be in competition with the £53m Grand Central. Housed in a former 23-storey office block, the Grand Central will offer 300 bedrooms. Dalata's latest Maldron, between the Crown Bar and City Hall, will have 237 rooms.

The city has around 100 more net rooms coming on stream this year than Dublin, but Steele believes Belfast is a sound option for the global chain. "Marriott has been keen to open in Northern Ireland for some time and we see enormous potential here right across the leisure, tourism and corporate market segments," she said.


- The new Air France Hop! service from Cork to Paris Charles De Gaulle will offer both business and economy on board 76-seater Embraer 170s.

Running from May 26 to October 27, it'll mean 33,750 available seats, with flights ex-Cork arriving into Paris at 7.20pm, and into Cork at 3.50pm daily. Apart from the point-to-point market for Irish business travellers, CDG - Europe's second-busiest airport - has over 180 destinations with Air France alone.

The carrier's UK and Ireland boss, Benedicte Duval, told this column: "The easiest connections on long haul are Brazil, Mexico, Mauritius and Algeria. For the European connections it's Rome, Florence, Munich, Budapest, Geneva, Barcelona and Toulouse."


- The strength of the Irish boom is borne out by latest figures from Ethiopian Airlines, which last week carried its millionth passenger through Dublin.

Unusual in that it's the only airline at Dublin connecting Africa (Addis Ababa), Europe and the US (Los Angeles), load factors rose 26pc last year - but business class traffic jumped by 79pc.

It's being put down to increased frequency to four flights a week on the Dublin-LA route in particular, where its only direct rival is Aer Lingus.

Heading east, there's less of a business market, but the biggest onward destinations via the Ethiopian capital for Irish travellers are Cape Town and the Nigerian capital, Lagos.


-The first ever premium economy service on an Irish-US route - highlighted last year in this column - is now up and running.

Cheaper than business class, with some of the perks, notably a decent seat pitch, it's now operating on American Airlines' daily service from Dublin to Philadelphia.

It'll also be on the airline's daily service to Charlotte Douglas from May 4. The cabin, situated directly behind business, features 21 seats on Airbus A330-200s. Premium economy, which is growing in popularity, is also available ex-Ireland to Toronto with Air Canada.

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