A city developer wants to open Liverpool’s first five-star hotel following an “absolutely stunning” post-Covid recovery from his current sites.
Town Hotels and its director of hospitality operations Duncan Stewart recently opened the first hotel in the Baltic Triangle – and its portfolio includes Duke Street Boutique Hotel, York Street Studios and Chavasse Apartments in the city centre.
Mr Stewart spoke to the ECHO about the pandemic, Liverpool’s development scene – and the future of the business.
According to Mr Stewart, that future includes the aim of opening the city’s first five-star hotel – an ambition slowed down by the pandemic but one that is still very much on the cards.
No announcement will be made just yet, but he said: “We’ve had 18 months where every single penny had to go on the two builds, which were Duke Street and the Baltic.
“In a perfect world, we would have been going ahead straightaway.
“But unfortunately, we’ve got to reset where we are looking at our finances, build a business back up to where the levels were in 2019. And then that will come for the future.”
Liverpool’s wait for a five-star hotel has been a long one. Most recently, in 2016, the Principal Hayley Group revealed plans to open one inside the Martins Bank Building on Water Street – but that site is now set to become flexible working space.
Mr Stewart said despite pandemic setbacks, the recovery in bookings had been “absolutely stunning”.
“I try not to mention what’s happened in the last 18 months, but obviously it’s delayed us an awful lot,” he said.
“We’ve still got some hurdles to come through, but the response to our bookings has been great. August was absolutely stunning.
“Perhaps I was a little bit pessimistic when I’m normally very optimistic, but the rates have come into where I expected them to be.”
Hotelier Mr Stewart, who also used to run Aintree Racecourse, added: “The industry says we’re not going to reset until 2024. Well, we’re doing pretty well at the moment even with a lack of international travel.
“So when that does come in, I think the boost will be a little bit sooner than 2024.
“I’m certainly less pessimistic than some of the reports I’ve been reading in the last few weeks.
“I’ve got great confidence in my hotels and what we do. I think we’re lucky – we’ve got two brand new hotels that have opened straight after Covid.
“We’ve managed to open them with everything we wanted to do with them, without compromising.”
Since launching its first phase in July with 36 bedrooms, the £7m Baltic Hotel has been received well by the city. The next phase will see 20 more rooms and a traditional pub called the Duck and Swagger open on-site by Christmas.
Last month, Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram visited the venue, and said the development will “drive more investment and tourism to the area”, which he said was a “great thing” for the city.
He said at the time: “I love when a breath of new life is given to an old building and The Baltic Hotel owners have done exactly that, the music memorabilia and record players in the rooms give it a really authentic feel and it’s another fantastic offering for people visiting Liverpool.”
With so many negative headlines surrounding the Liverpool development scene in recent years, Mr Stewart said honesty with investors is now more important than ever.
He said: “There’s been so much bad press about fractional sales and how people have invested their savings into hotels and rooms, and they’ve not received a return because they were promised 10% or 12%.
“We’ve gone back to [our investors] and said, ‘look, guys, this is where we are at the moment’.
“We contact them regularly, telling them where we are and telling them what we are giving them as returns.
“We invite everyone to us. We’re lucky, we’ve got some very high-worth individuals that invested their own personal money – so we don’t have lots of individuals.
“But where we have done – including in the Baltic, we’ve kept them abreast of the information, and we’ve invited them down. We see them every week and we give them our figures, which is important. I think.
“The biggest thing for us is honesty, transparency of our business, and telling them where we are.”
He said that linked into deciding not to press ahead with plans for the five-star hotel – for now.
“Are we going to go into another hotel without stabilising the business? The answer is no, because that would be foolish.
“So let’s reset, stabilise where we are, and then go from there.
“We are very happy with our investors. I hope they would say the same about our businesses as well.”
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Mr Stewart said outside of the potential five-star Liverpool hotel plans, the firm was looking to double down on the city and not expand elsewhere.
He said: “I think from past experience, where people have expanded their business beyond the city that they know, is risky at this time.
“I think the hotel market is open now to investment of people coming in to buy them from abroad. And I think there are good properties to pick up.
“We’re definitely going to stay where we are at the moment. Let’s finish Baltic and let’s stabilise our business – and then when we feel strong enough, we will expand accordingly.
“But we are not going to concentrate on a new build when we still haven’t finished what we’ve already got.
“We’re not going to spread ourselves thin. We’re a small team, we want to do it right, we want to do in the right way. And I will build another hotel when I finished what I’ve currently got.”