Bill Hastings, who has died in his 90th year, was chair of the Hastings Hotels Group, which owns half a dozen of the North's major hotels. He always took a long-term view of the industry. Not only did he survive the 70s and 80s as a hotelier in the North, he invested during those years.
William Hastings was born in East Belfast in October 1928, the youngest of five children, three girls and two boys, to William Hastings, and his wife Jessie (née Waters). His father was a publican, while his mother was a teacher whose family came originally from East Cork.
He was educated at Strandtown Primary School, Royal Belfast Academical Institution (Inst) and Regent House in Newtownards.
His father died when he was 12. He left school at 16, and spent a couple of years apprenticed to the timber trade. Then his older brother Roy brought him in to assist with running the family’s four bars. Roy died when Bill was only in his mid-20s. He had the ability to take advice from more senior staff and by the late 1950s had a group of 17 bars in Belfast.
As a publican he was energetic. He became involved in providing outside catering, gaining experience and contacts that would later help in the hotel business. After the second World War, Guinness was the dominant supplier for the North’s bar trade. With other go-ahead publicans, he bought the Ulster Brewery in Belfast to source their own beer. They later sold this to United Breweries.
For a while he was involved in politics, as a Unionist member of Belfast Corporation. In the early 70s local government was reorganised, and the corporation replaced by the city council. Bill withdrew from politics. He was unhappy at the sectarian polarisation setting in, as he employed people from all sections of the community.
His initial moves into hotels were fortuitous. The licensing laws, he felt, were moving to favour clubs over pubs. In the late 1950s major new middle-class housing developments were built round Stormont in East Belfast. He knew residents wanted to slake their thirst but that there would be objections to a pub.
One of the developers had built a large house with 10 bedrooms. He bought it and established a small hotel, with a licence for a bar. It is now the Stormont Hotel. Round the same time he bought the Adair Arms Hotel in Ballymena. Then in 1967 he paid the extraordinary sum of £100,000 (£3million in today’s terms) for the Culloden Hotel in East Belfast.
It proves his astuteness that he could steer his business through adversity. In May 1971 he bought half-a-dozen former railway hotels in the North. Three months later internment was introduced. The subsequent violence killed off the North’s tourist trade. Several of his hotels were destroyed. To survive he diversified successfully into using his surviving hotels as entertainment venues.
In the early 1990s he bought the Europa, famous as Europe’s most bombed hotel. At the time it was closed, the windows boarded up, and seemed bound for dereliction. Then the ceasefires were called, and visitor numbers in Belfast began their inexorable rise.
He also expanded the business into the South, becoming part-owner of Dublin's Merrion Hotel, with businessmen Lochlann Quinn and Martin Naughton.
In his 87th year, he began work on the major project of the proposed 300 bedroom Grand Central Hotel in Belfast City Centre. He was working on that development almost to his death.
That reflected his life-long energy. He held several directorships over the years, including of the North’s Institute of Directors, Bass Ireland, and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. For over 50 years he was active in Rotary. He was prominently associated with intermediate football club Dundela. He was an energetic charity worker, especially for Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke and charities dealing with men’s health issues.
Six months before his death he conceded to advancing age, and moved his office to his house outside Downpatrick.
Sir William Hastings is survived by wife, Lady Joy, daughters Julie, Allyson and Aileen, son Howard, and sisters Maureen and Olive.