The Luxury Travel Bible - Q&A Sir William Hastings

Q&A Sir William Hastings,
Founder, Hastings Hotels

Sir William Hastings founded Hastings Hotels which has grown to become known as offering the finest 4 and 5 star hotels in Northern Ireland including the Culloden Hotel and Spa, Slieve Donard Resort and Spa and Belfast city centre Europa Hotel. He began his career as a publican but founded his luxury hotel group in 1968 when he purchased the Stormont and Adair Arms hotels. Hastings Hotels is now the largest independent hotel group in Northern Ireland. One of the standout facts of the group's success is that Sir William was operating his hotels during 'the troubles' when no international hotel group was opening hotels and few tourists dared to visit the country due to the political unrest. Many of his hotels were bombed and destroyed and at one point the Slieve Donard hotel was nicknamed the 'Titanic' as it was feared it would sink the whole group! Ironically it is the only remaining hotel of the original six which operates as a hotel today. 

Sir William has now passed his General Manager reins onto his son Howard however he continues to oversee the group from the chairman's position. In 2009 he was awarded a knighthood from the Queen for services to tourism and to the community and holds an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Ulster and helped to establish their hospitality department.

2013 looks set to be an exciting year for Northern Ireland as it recently hosted the G8 who met at  Lough Erne Resort and Derry-Londonderry is the UK City of Culture for 2013 (something Sir William says he is very excited about).

What inspired you to get involved in the hotel industry in the first place?

I was born into it! My father's business was public houses. When he died I inherited the pubs all in Belfast, however in the mid 1960's I had the chance to buy my first Hotel - I became hooked!


What is the single best/defining thing about Hastings Hotels?
It is family run business - my four children who are no longer children all work in the business. We pride ourselves on offering a typical Irish service - friendly and efficient, with personal hands on managers always present and quick to react to requests from customers.
During 'The Troubles' few were willing to invest in Northern Irish tourism. Tell us about this time from a hotelier's point-of-view.
My fellow hoteliers in Northern Ireland and I were required to manage a situation that came about and persisted for 30 years. We had to persevere and adjust daily to the volatile situation. It is all very different now thank goodness!
Sir William Hastings
What makes Northern Ireland such a desirable tourist destination for today's luxury traveller?
The warm Irish Welcome, sport especially golf (Rory, Graeme, Darren, need I say more?) but Ulster Rugby is up there too as a national favourite. Uncluttered roads are a fantastic bonus especially around the tourist attractions where you would expect queues. 

What is the next major luxury travel trend?
Cruising has become a big hit for many - see several places on one holiday from magnificent ships. It has become a holiday trend to suit all ages, families and children too. Activity breaks in Northern Ireland are something that very many people are keen on. Staycations for two or three annual short breaks are something that everyone now feels they need and deserve. Weekend breaks in our resort hotels are extremely popular.

What is your own personal litmus test for whether a hotel is worthy of the 'luxury' tag?
Number one - the comfort of the bed! We have 'cloud beds' in Hastings Hotels - they are to emulate sleeping on a cloud.   The favourable comments are many. Cleanliness, attention to detail, and the usual ones, food and service.  It should be automatic but isn't always, that is being recognised time and again if you are a regular customer.

Apart from your own, what are your favourite retreats/hotels/resorts, and why?
My personal favourite is Sandy Lane in Barbados - it is my benchmark and really does it for me! If I could afford to send all my staff there to see how it is done, I would love to do that - meanwhile they have to be content with me coming to see them and telling them what I have found at Sandy Lane this visit! I have been about 8 times.

What is your favourite city to visit?
London. I just love the Royal history, pomp and ceremony that it markets the city on. The landmark hotels are always great to visit too, take in a show, and of course it is hard to keep my wife Joy out of Harrods and Harvey Nicks!!!
Europa Hotel
Luxury Hotels Northern Ireland
Slieve Donard Resort and Spa
What is your best restaurant experience?
The magnificent restaurant Patrick Gauilbaud in the Merrion Hotel Dublin. It is a 3 star Michelin restaurant and I always enjoy a fine dining experience there is the top hotel Dublin has to offer.
What is on your 'where to next' wishlist?
We have been to so many places thanks to our love of cruising and seeing many places on each holiday. However if asked where to go next - it is more a question of where to go again - Barbados - again and again and again!!
What is your favourite airline for business or first class? Why?
Emirates I think, but it is close run thing. The comfort and staff we have experienced on Emirates are second to none.
Who would you most like to sit next to on a plane?
Michael O'Leary from Ryanair. He is a business man I truly respect. He takes no nonsense, he does not pander to governments, he has a vision and he has the drive to see it through. He talks the talk and walks the walk - and will not let anyone get in his way. I would love to sit and talk to Michael O'Leary on a long haul flight!
Luxury Hotels Northern Ireland The Culloden Estate & Spa
The Culloden Estate & Spa
What are the three things you never travel without?
Passport, Credit card, Wife!!
What is the one luxury travel experience you will never forget?
My cruising experience on the Amazon. Its size is amazing - in some places 700 miles wide, and when it joins the Negra River it forms a Black and cream ocean the likes of which I have never seen!

What is the most important thing (travelwise) that money CAN buy?
First Class and luxury - most important at my stage of life!!!

What is the most important thing it can't?
Queues for passport control, for searching and luggage delays. A VIP or first class terminal in large airports would be lovely to be able to buy if it were only possible.

One last thing - what is the significance of the Rubber Ducks?
They put a personality behind the hotels and have become iconic with Hastings Hotels. They are friendly little chaps, and are loved by all our visitors, whatever age! Celebrities love to sign the ducks for us and have their photos taken with them. They have evolved from a yellow rubber ducks to many different themed ducks, we have Titanic ducks, Giant's Causeway ducks, city of culture ducks, love ducks, St Patrick's Day ducks, Ulster Rugby ducks and Christmas quacker ducks. We have fun posting peoples photos on Facebook when they send us their ducks on holiday or in their place of work. This year we have a travelling duck who will travel via social media to all parts of Ireland in 2 months! That is our next duck challenge! We purchase 150,000 ducks every year!

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Posted 2/7 /13
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