Transactional activity in the Irish hotels market has been slow so far in 2017 when compared with the past couple of years, but demand from hotel operators and investors remains strong.
Excluding loan sales and investment properties, 66 hotels changed hands last year for more than €800m, according to property adviser CBRE. This record total was boosted by several big Dublin sales, including the Lifestyle collection of the Spencer, Morgan and Beacon hotels for €150m; the Gresham for more than €90m; and the Doubletree by Hilton, the former Burlington, for about €180m.
Things have been somewhat quieter so far in 2017 as the market returns to a more normal footing. John Hughes, head of transactions in CBRE’s hotels and licensed division, said 18 hotels, with a total capital value of €78m, transacted in the first eight months of 2017.
Not included in that figure, however, is the biggest transaction completed so far this year: Dalata’s purchase of parts of Clayton Hotel Cardiff Lane and of Clarion Liffey Valley for €62.5m.
The Cardiff Lane deal included 170 bedrooms, as well as the ground and lower ground floor areas, and brought Dalata’s total holding in the property to 193 out of 304 bedrooms. The Liffey Valley package included the core hotel of 159 bedrooms, leisure centre, meeting rooms, reception, bar and restaurant, and two vacant retail units.
Dalata has since agreed to buy the long leasehold interest of 33 suites in Liffey Valley for €8.58m. The group said the suites were the equivalent of 99 rooms, taking its total holding to 257 out of a total of 353 bedrooms in the hotel, which it will rebrand as a Clayton before year is out.
Outside Dublin, Dalata also bought the freehold of the 90-bedroom Maldron in Portlaoise for €6.8m — including the adjoining Midway Foodcourt — this year.
The biggest non-investment sale so far this year is Mount Wolseley, a four-star, 143-bedroom hotel, spa and golf resort in Co Carlow that sold for about €14m.
The property, which includes 16 four-bedroom lodges and 170 acres of parkland, was sold by Tetrarch Capital and bought on behalf of the Strategic Capital Investment Fund, which is owned by Austrian investor Thomas Roeggla, who acquired the Farnham Estate in Co Cavan last year for more than €26m.
One of the big trends of late has been a move towards off-market transactions. A recent report from Cushman & Wakefield noted that seven of the hotels sold in the first half of this year were off-market deals, compared with just two in the same period in 2016.
This year’s off-market sales include the 104-bedroom D in Drogheda, which was bought for an undisclosed sum by Gleann Hospitality from Galway businessman Gerry Barrett’s Edward Holdings.
Also sold off market was the Hillgrove in Co Monaghan, which was bought by Irish hotel group iNua Hospitality, again for an undisclosed figure.
And the German investment fund Deka — purchaser last year of the former Burlington — is understood to have bought the 92-bedroom Maldron Smithfield for €20m off-market.
Another hotel that sold without being formally launched to the market was Westwood House in Galway, which was bought by the Ziggurat student fund. The hotel will cease operating early next year and the property will be converted into student accommodation.
Off-market transactions are expected to become more common. “It’s the nature of the market when a receiver isn’t in the background,” said Daniel O’Connor, a senior vice-president in real estate investor JLL’s hotels department. “The owner is not forced to put it on the market and can be a lot more strategic about approaching a select number of parties.”
“It’s returning to a normal market where a potential buyer makes an offer of a reasonable price and the owner may decide to sell and move on,” said Tom Barrett, director of hotels and leisure at Savills. “The first people will know of it is when the deal is done.”
Barrett added: “Because it’s an ongoing business, people tend to want to keep these transactions under wraps until they’re completed.”
Going the off-market route also lets owners test the waters, said O’Connor. “As they haven’t done a big public campaign, they can decide not to sell if they don’t like the price.”
The most significant hotel property on the market today is the four-star Carton House in Co Kildare, which is being sold through joint agents Savills and CBRE with a guide price of €60m. Hughes said there had been much national and international interest in the spa and golf resort, which has 165 bedrooms and comes with 668 acres of land.
First-round bids were lodged this month and are under review. Rumour has it that the US billionaire John Malone, who already owns several Irish hotels and was widely tipped to be in for Carton House, did not submit an offer.
Also up for sale via Savills is the Gibson hotel in Dublin 1, which has a guide price in excess of €87m. The 252-bedroom hotel is operated by Dalata on a 25-year lease to 2035.
“Interest is strong but it’s at the early stage,” said Barrett. “There hasn’t been much available in Ireland of that type of product and size in a great location and with a good tenant.”
Meanwhile, six Irish hotels are included in a portfolio of 42 Jurys Inn and Hilton properties being sold by Lone Star via Credit Suisse and Eastdil. The Irish properties are Jurys venues in Galway, Cork and Belfast, plus Parnell Street and Christchurch in Dublin, as well as the Hilton Garden Inn on Customs Quay.
Hotels are increasingly on the radar of institutional investors. “Traditionally investors would have been focused on retail, offices and logistics but now they’re looking at hotels as an asset class,” said Hughes. “Bigger institutional foreign investors are now looking at the Dublin market because hotels are trading so well at the moment,” he added. “Dublin, Galway, Cork, Limerick are all performing well, showing increases in occupancy and average room rate and ultimately revenue per available room.”
While activity has been slower this year, demand for Irish hotels has not waned, said O’Connor. “The product just hasn’t been available,” he said. “There have been a lot of purchasers in the past 18 months, particularly Asian buyers, who are fairly keen to deploy and still haven’t got something in Dublin. It’s still definitely a sellers’ market this year, but there aren’t enough sellers.”
Barrett says transactions so far, including investment purchases, probably add up to less than €150m. “There’s another bit sale agreed or in advanced stages — maybe €200m — and then there’s €200m on the market,” he said. “But we’re going to be well down on prior years and more into a normal zone of transactions.”