THE chief executive of an Irish hotels group which has just opened a second major property in Glasgow yesterday highlighted ambitions to expand into Edinburgh city centre but great challenges in finding a site.

Dermot Crowley, who is flying to Scotland today for the official launch of the 303-bedroom Clayton Hotel Glasgow City in the A-listed former Custom House building on the River Clyde, told The Herald in an exclusive interview that he often thought “Glasgow is an underestimated city”.

Mr Crowley, who took over as chief executive of Clayton and Maldron brands owner Dalata Hotel Group about a year ago, said of Glasgow: “It has a very strong combination of corporate and leisure [business].”

He noted that, with the latest launch following the opening of the 300-bedroom Maldron Hotel Glasgow City last year, Dublin-based Dalata now had more than 600 rooms in Glasgow. The Maldron in Glasgow was the Irish group’s first hotel opening in Scotland.

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Highlighting Dalata’s targeting of central locations in cities with strong corporate and leisure demand, Mr Crowley highlighted the group’s appetite to open in Edinburgh but also flagged the difficulty in finding centrally located sites.

Asked if Dalata had tried much so far in Edinburgh, in terms of finding a site, Mr Crowley replied: “We have tried lots. We have the scars. There is never a time we are not working on something in Edinburgh.”

He added: “We will get in there eventually. It will be well worth waiting for the right opportunity.”

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Referring to Glasgow and Edinburgh, Mr Crowley said: “We really like those two cities. Maybe it is the Irish thing – we love Scotland as a potential place to do business.”

He signalled that Dalata was not currently looking beyond Scotland’s two largest cities. He said it might be the group would find that “one or two other cities” in Scotland would work for it as well as its understanding of the market grew but added that any such moves would be “further down the line”.

Mr Crowley declared that Dalata did not have staff shortages in any of its hotels, and highlighted the importance in this context of the group retaining core management teams numbering about 15 or 16 in each hotel throughout the pandemic.

However, he also highlighted the impact of Brexit in reducing the availability of staff in the UK.

Dalata employs about 5,000 people. The new four-star, 16-storey Clayton Hotel Glasgow City, Dalata’s 50th property overall and its 17th in the UK, has around 100 staff.

Mr Crowley said: “It is always challenging recruiting. I can’t say it is any worse than pre-Covid for us.

“It is a bit harder in the UK than it is in Ireland. Obviously Brexit has significantly reduced the number of people available to work in the industry. You do notice a difference between the UK and Ireland.”

He added: “If you go around Dublin, you will see a huge number of Europeans working in hotels and restaurants.

“When you reduce the number of people coming into the country (the UK) it does have an impact.”

While acknowledging there was a lot of new bedroom capacity coming on stream in the Glasgow hotel market, Mr Crowley emphasised he was “comfortable” with the overall level.

He said: “There is quite a lot coming in at the same time. I think what people don’t track is product coming out of the market.”

Mr Crowley noted such capacity coming off the market might include the likes of bed and breakfast accommodation, and flagged much higher utilities bills for older hotels amid the surge in energy prices.

Referring to Glasgow, he added: “There is plenty of new capacity coming in. Cities always need new capacity because urban areas are growing faster than rural. Glasgow is growing as a city.”

Mr Crowley meanwhile highlighted his belief that fewer hotels would be built in the next four to five years, noting “construction prices are inflated so much and finance isn’t as easily available as it was two or three years ago”.

He also flagged a focus by Dalata on increasing sharply the food allowances at the group’s hotels for staff, amid the cost-of-living crisis.