The founder of the Hastings Hotel group, Sir William Hastings, who left school at 16 and built a multi-million pound hospitality business over a career spanning 50 years has died at the age of 89.
Mr Hastings bought his first hotel in 1964 in Ballymena and acquired a portfolio of hotels across the North including the Europa Hotel, which was once described as the most bombed hotel in Europe. The group also part owns Dublin's five-star Merrion Hotel.
Today the Hastings Hotels group is one of the North's largest locally owned hospitality businesses, employing more than 1,000 people and Mr Hasting's family has paid tribute to the "legacy" which he has left.
His son Howard who is managing director of the Hastings Group and his daughters Julie, Allyson and Aileen, who are also directors, together with Mr Hastings wife, Joy said they were "immensely proud of his outstanding accomplishments".
They said:"He took great pride in working together with us in the family business and until he took ill earlier this year, he still came into his office every day and continued to play a key role as chairman of Hastings Hotels. In 2015 Billy was immensely proud to announce the purchase of what is to be the seventh Hastings hotel and he was very much looking forward to seeing the rebirth of the Grand Central Hotel when it opens next year.
“We cannot describe the huge void that he has left in our lives but we take comfort in the fact that he was an inspiration to so many people and has left a lasting legacy which we will remain dedicated in honouring.”
Tributes have been paid from across the North’s hospitality sector to Mr Hastings who was described as “always a true gentleman” to work with.
Members of Visit Belfast, the public private partnership organisation, said they were united in honouring Mr Hastings' lifetime of exemplary and inspiring business achievement, and, in particular, his exceptional contribution to Belfast and Northern Ireland's tourism and hospitality success".
They praised his role as a “true entrepreneur with vision, positive in his outlook and always optimistic about this region’s future and the contribution he knew it could make on a global scale”.
Colin Neill, CEO of industry group, Hospitality Ulster, said Mr Hastings had always kept his feet on the ground despite becoming one of Northern Ireland's most successful businessmen.
“He always stayed true to his values, and was respected by not only the industry but by all of his staff. He began his successful business over 50 years ago and has left a legacy which has formed the foundation for our now successful tourism industry. It is suiting that with his family so embedded in the industry, his legacy will be carried on for generations to come,” Mr Neill added.