60 seconds with... Howard Hastings, Belfast's Hastings Hotels

Ahead of the Belfast Waterfront exhibition space launch, C&IT spoke to Howard Hastings, MD of Hastings Hotels, who has been championing the cause to bring corporate events to the city.

Howard Hastings, managing director, Hastings Hotels
Howard Hastings, managing director, Hastings Hotels

Belfast has finally got its new exhibition centre, how was this made possible?

The journey Belfast went on is the same journey that Northern Ireland has been on to reposition itself for visitors. It started five or six years ago, when we put new products in place to attract people after the troubles that occurred in the city. These included the Titanic Belfast, Giant’s Causeway and London Derry. On the back of that, we started doing large events to get people to come here.

Belfast hosted the MTV Awards, the Irish Open, and the World Peace and Fire games. When we had these big events we saw how much the community got behind them. These big events spoke to the new Northern Ireland brand, which embodies people and a society ready to move forward.

The logical extension to this is the Waterfront Exhibition Centre, which allows us to invite people who might not have thought about Northern Ireland to a new purpose-built venue.

How did it feel when it all came together?

It was magical. When the Waterfront was first built, they didn’t put the exhibition centre on for cost reasons, but that was good because if they had they wouldn’t have made it to the sufficient style and size to what the events industry currently needs.

This really is now the full metal jacket for a corporate event offering. You can see with the energy that has gone into the marketing plan for it and now there is an industry that is very hungry to attract new business.

What does the new exhibition centre mean for the future of Belfast?

The future is bright. You can see around the city there are new offices and new hotels springing up and you can see that the share of people coming to Ireland that are travelling to Northern Ireland is increasing year-on-year.

They’re coming from new destinations, too, like France, Germany and Asia. This is as well as the traditional countries like South Africa and United States.

What separates Belfast from its UK competition?

I suppose for too long Belfast has not been on the radar because people think of hosting their conference on the same landmass. Actually [coming to Northern Ireland] has a huge benefit because when coming to Belfast there is a sense of retreat and delegates get to fully immerse themselves in the conference. We still pride ourselves on being the one place in the UK that delegates can get to quicker than anywhere else.

More:

In Pictures: Belfast Waterfront preview

Belfast secures record £13m from events

Bullitt boutique property planned for Belfast

Belfast Waterfront development nears completion

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