This week, as part of our Business Leaders series, ProfileTree Director Michelle Connolly explores the hospitality industry in Northern Ireland.

This episode features Ruth Chocron, owner of Titanic Guest, a boutique bed and breakfast in east Belfast. In the interview, they discuss how the Argentinian fashion designer found her way to Belfast, and built her business from the ground up.

The pair also chat about the ever-evolving industry, the challenges of establishing a business, Belfast’s rich history and what makes Titanic Guest stand out from the rest.

Check out the full interview below, and read on for the highlights.

From Fashion Design to Boutique B&B: Ruth’s Success Story

Ruth’s story is unlike any other. Having started her career in her hometown of Argentina – she never expected to be where she is now.

Hospitality in Northern Ireland and Hospitality Development with Ruth Chocron

“I started my career as a fashion designer in Argentina, my home country. I worked 20 years in the fashion industry, thinking that would be me forever.

“But after a change in the economy in Argentina, I moved to New Jersey in America. I worked in international marketing, where I travelled a lot and saw more of the world.”

Having found her passion for travel, she then got the itch for exploring new places. After moving to London, she soon became tired of the hustle and bustle and decided to change things up by moving to Belfast.

“I decided I wanted to do something more quiet, and move to a more quiet place to start my new full-time career for the rest of my life.

“I wanted to move somewhere compact and up-and-coming. I then discovered that Belfast was very left behind compared to property in the rest of the UK – so I moved six years ago.”

Originally, Ruth moved to Belfast to work in property development after seeing a gap in the market when comparing Belfast to London.

“It was very exciting, but very slow compared to everywhere else.

“I bought a house in east Belfast, and chose it as my market area. It was a very beautiful house, on a very beautiful street. So I wondered how attractive it would be to international travellers. I could see it from a tourist point of view.
“I could see it being a success, so I put aside my property development business and went into the hospitality business instead.”

After this career change, Ruth embarked on establishing Titanic Guest, a boutique B&B situated on Templemore Avenue, closeby to Belfast city centre’s many amenities.

Speaking of why she chose to take this huge leap, Ruth said it was the perfect way to merge her passions: culture, design and people.

“The hospitality business has many areas. It is very intense and very absorbent – and I like it. It is a people business, and I love to know different cultures and different people.

“Having this place, put me close to people that come from around the world.”

Titanic Guest 1
Hospitality is all about welcoming guests from all around the world. Image credit: Titanic Guest

Challenges in the Hospitality Industry

When starting up any business, entrepreneurs can expect fallbacks and hardships throughout their journey.

But, having jumped into a whole new industry with nothing but a new-found interest, Ruth emphasises that her successes have not come without struggles.

“There were many challenges. Starting a completely new business where you need to think about all the different areas like marketing, relations, HR – you have to know everything and do everything properly.”

Having to learn everything from scratch, Ruth says there was only one thing that got her through the initial stages of starting up her business – and that was common sense.

“The only thing I could use from all my experiences was common sense. That got me through many hard decisions. I had to be a builder, an architect, a tourist advisor – you have to become an expert in everything.”

Ruth tells us how being well-travelled also helped her set goals and expectations of what she wanted to achieve.

“Being a guest is so easy. I always was a guest travelling the world, it was fantastic.

“Being the host is a completely different game. You have to do a lot of things for people not to see anything wrong.”

Another challenge Ruth faces daily is competition. However, her attitude towards competition is that it is a necessity in business to constantly adapt and improve.

“The market is also tremendously competitive. There are many others like mine. Also, when something is successful, everyone jumps on it.

“Competition never scares me. It’s good because it makes you better. We have to do better marketing, decorations, customer service – to find really sharp unique selling points. Without this, we would not improve.”

Titanic Guest 2 room photo
Excellent service and a solid USP are crucial in the hospitality industry. Image credit: Titanic Guest

Unique Selling Point: Boutique vs Chain

When comparing between chain hotels and boutique guest houses, Ruth says there is one key difference that sets them worlds apart.

“I did a lot of research on this. Being a well-travelled person myself and having worked in the fashion industry, I had a very good idea about what people look for – and that’s personalisation.”

“You can find everything in a big chain, but many people look for small places with character, interesting design and more personalised attention.”

When discussing attention, Ruth states how attention needs to be at the focus of everything. Whether it be customer service, culinary skills and even decoration and design.

“Boutique hotels have a lot of attention to detail. It is not one colour everywhere – they are special, carefully considered rooms. People are looking for an experience when they travel, and they want an accommodation that matches every part of the experience.”

Hospitality in Northern Ireland

While small compared to the other big cities Ruth is used to – she says hospitality in Northern Ireland is booming.

“One in 20 jobs in Northern Ireland is in hospitality. There are many areas where people can start a career and it is in high demand. It is very positive to be in an industry that will always offer jobs in this economic market.”

In Ruth’s experience of working in the travel and tourism industry, Belfast is great for offering a complete experience package to tourists far and near. Especially when it comes to concerts.

“What makes Belfast unique is concerts.

“I have people from London or other places in the UK who come to Belfast to see a concert because the tickets are cheaper. They travel and stay here for the same money they pay for the same ticket in London. They get better value as they get a full experience. It is funny how people discover this place and make memories here.”

Titanic Guest Triple Room
Titanic Guest also cater for families. Image credit: Titanic Guest

What’s Next for Titanic Guest?

Being a boutique bed and breakfast, attention is always focused on refining and improving to stand out compared to big chains.

However, Ruth is always looking at the bigger picture, and is constantly investing in making Titanic Guest as versatile as possible.

“We have just finished an extension so we will soon have 15 unique, individually decorated rooms – all of them to the best standard.

“Soon we will also be able to offer a room for small gatherings and events too.”

Ruth’s vision for Titanic Guest is to offer not only nice accommodation, but also an experience for her clientele’s diverse needs.

“We have such a big spectrum of people. There are a lot of companies in east Belfast that do not have a really nice place to bring people – whether it be for meetings or conventions.

“For example, a woman booked all of our rooms for her family coming from different parts of the world for her wedding so they can be close to her.

“We are very happy to be able to offer this kind of service to people in the area as well as far away.”

To find out more about Ruth’s love of Northern Irish history and more insights from the hospitality industry, you can watch our full ProfileTree TV interview.

You can also visit Titanic Guest to see more of what Ruth’s business has to offer.

Northern Ireland: Where Magic Meets Reality – Unique Selling Points for Your Hospitality Business

Beyond the Emerald Isle’s green embrace, Northern Ireland beckons with a charm all its own. It’s a land where rugged coasts whisper tales of ancient druids, rolling hills embrace Game of Thrones fantasies, and bustling cities hum with contemporary vibrancy. For visitors seeking an experience beyond the ordinary, Northern Ireland offers a tapestry of unique selling points that your hospitality business can leverage:

1. Landscapes that Unfurl Like an Epic Saga:

  • Dramatic coastlines: From the towering cliffs of the Giant’s Causeway to the golden sands of Downhill Beach, Northern Ireland’s coastline is a photographer’s dream.
  • Mystical Glens: Hike through verdant valleys etched with waterfalls and dotted with charming villages in places like Glens of Antrim and Mourne.
  • Lush Lakeland: Navigate the tranquil waters of Lough Erne or Lough Neagh, surrounded by emerald hills and dotted with historic islands.
  • Rolling Drumlins: Cycle through the mesmerizing “Morne Mountains,” where gentle grassy humps undulate like a sleeping giant.

2. A History Written in Stone and Song:

  • Delve into medieval castles: Witness the grandeur of Carrickfergus Castle, explore the haunting ruins of Dunluce Castle, or lose yourself in the opulent Belfast Castle.
  • Unravel Celtic mysteries: Explore ancient burial mounds like Newgrange or stand awestruck before the impressive standing stones of Cromlech.
  • Follow the Titanic trail: Visit Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, where this legendary ship was built, and delve into its dramatic story.
  • Listen to stirring tales: Immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of folklore and music, from traditional fiddle tunes in local pubs to contemporary storytelling tours.

3. Vibrant Culture: Where Old Meets New with a Bang:

  • Thriving Belfast: Explore a city that seamlessly blends Victorian architecture with cutting-edge street art, bustling markets, and world-class restaurants.
  • Festivals for every season: From the lively St. Patrick’s Day celebrations to the Belfast International Arts Festival, there’s something for everyone.
  • Cosy pubs and buzzing nightlife: Enjoy a Guinness in a traditional pub with live music, or dance the night away in trendy Belfast nightclubs.
  • Warm Irish hospitality: Experience the legendary friendliness of the locals, known for their welcoming smiles and genuine connection.

4. Experiences that Ignite the Imagination:

  • Walk in the footsteps of heroes: Journey through the epic landscapes of Game of Thrones filming locations, from Winterfell’s Castle Ward to the Dark Hedges.
  • Unleash your inner explorer: Embark on wildlife tours through rugged national parks, kayak through hidden coves, or climb Mourne Mountain’s iconic Slieve Donard.
  • Taste the terroir: Indulge in fresh seafood straight from the Atlantic, savor farm-to-table gourmet feasts, and discover artisan breweries and distilleries.
  • Go beyond the familiar: Learn to make soda bread, weave traditional crafts, or attend a lively céilí dance with toe-tapping Irish jigs.

Northern Ireland is not just a destination; it’s an experience that lingers long after the last flight home. By incorporating these unique selling points into your hospitality business, you can attract adventurous travelers seeking something special, something they won’t find anywhere else. You can offer them a chance to be swept away by the magic of this land, where landscapes inspire, history comes alive, and culture pulsates with the rhythm of ancient echoes and contemporary excitement.

Hospitality Hotspots: Thriving Business Types in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s tourism landscape is blossoming, and alongside the iconic sights, a diverse and exciting range of hospitality businesses are catering to the evolving tastes of modern travelers. Here’s a closer look at some thriving sectors that offer unique opportunities for entrepreneurs:

1. Boutique Hotels: Redefining Luxury with Local Twists:

  • Move beyond predictable chains and embrace the charm of intimate, independent hotels. Cater to discerning travelers seeking personalized service, local character, and unique experiences.
  • Consider repurposing historic buildings, incorporating local design elements, and offering curated tours or partnerships with artisans and producers.
  • Examples: The Merchant Hotel in Belfast, Ballyliffin Lodge & Spa in Donegal, The Bushmills Inn in County Antrim.

2. Glamping: Embracing Nature in Style:

  • Cater to the growing demand for glamorous camping with luxurious tents, yurts, or pods amidst stunning landscapes. Offer stargazing, campfire experiences, and locally sourced meals for a truly immersive escape.
  • Choose scenic locations near national parks, beaches, or lakes. Partner with local activity providers for hiking, horseback riding, or water sports.
  • Examples: glamping pods at Causeway Coast Farm, yurts at Finn Lough in Fermanagh, luxury tents at Slieve League in Donegal.

3. Farm Stays: Unwinding With Rustic Charm:

  • Offer visitors a taste of rural life on working farms or charming cottages. Provide opportunities for animal interactions, farm-to-table dining, and engaging in traditional activities like baking or cheesemaking.
  • Highlight sustainability practices, organic produce, and educational workshops. Partner with local craftspeople for on-site demonstrations or sales.
  • Examples: Annesley Farm in County Down, Lisduff Farmhouse in Tyrone, Glenarm Castle Estate in County Antrim.

4. Pubs with Live Music: The Soul of Irish Hospitality:

  • Go beyond the typical pub fare and create a destination for foodies and music lovers. Offer high-quality pub grub with local ingredients, alongside open mic nights, traditional sessions, or themed music events.
  • Partner with local musicians and brewers, host cultural evenings, and create a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
  • Examples: The John Hewitt in Belfast, The Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast, The Porthouse in Donegal.

5. Experiential Dining: Food as an Adventure:

  • Elevate the dining experience by incorporating interactive elements, unique settings, or cultural storytelling. Consider themed dinners, chef’s table experiences, or pop-up restaurants in unusual locations.
  • Utilize local produce, focus on historical or literary inspiration, and offer multi-sensory experiences through sights, sounds, and aromas.
  • Examples: The Muddlers Club in Belfast, The Cuan in Strangford, The Yellow Crane in Galway.

Remember, success lies in finding your niche and catering to specific interests. Northern Ireland’s diverse tourism market attracts various traveler types, from luxury seekers to adventure enthusiasts, foodies to culture buffs. By offering unique experiences, personalized service, and a genuine connection to the local spirit, your hospitality business can thrive in this exciting landscape.

Success Stories from Northern Ireland’s Thriving Scene

Northern Ireland’s tourism industry is buzzing with innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. Here are a few inspiring case studies of established hospitality businesses that are showcasing the region’s potential and offering valuable lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs:

1. The Bushmills Inn: A Taste of History and Luxury:

  • Located in a charming village at the heart of whiskey country, this historic inn seamlessly blends traditional charm with contemporary luxury.
  • Key to their success:
    • Restoring and preserving the historical building: They retained the original character while adding modern amenities, creating a unique atmosphere.
    • Culinary focus on local produce: Highlighting fresh, seasonal ingredients from nearby farms and producers, they offer an authentic taste of the region.
    • Personalized service and storytelling: The staff are passionate about the local history and share compelling stories with guests, enriching their experience.

2. Finn Lough: Glamping with Eco-Conscious Charm:

  • Nestled beside a picturesque lough in Fermanagh, this glamping site offers luxurious yurts and lodges in harmony with the surrounding nature.
  • Key to their success:
    • Sustainable practices: Utilizing renewable energy sources, minimizing waste, and offering educational workshops on environmental awareness, they set a commendable example.
    • Community partnerships: Collaborating with local artisans and activity providers, they support the local economy and create authentic experiences for guests.
    • Focus on stargazing and nature immersion: By providing telescopes and hosting guided walks, they promote the beauty and tranquility of the natural landscape.

3. The Muddlers Club: Where Food Meets Storytelling:

  • Hidden away in a Belfast alley, this unique restaurant transports guests to Prohibition-era New York City, offering immersive themed dinners and an interactive dining experience.
  • Key to their success:
    • Creative storytelling: The immersive setting, curated music, and theatrical performances by the waiters enhance the dining experience and engage all senses.
    • High-quality, locally sourced food: The menu features creative dishes inspired by the 1920s, crafted with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
    • Engaging service: The enthusiastic staff play their roles with passion, creating a memorable and interactive dining experience.

4. The Porthouse: A Pub with a Purpose:

  • This lively Donegal pub not only offers delicious food and live music but also actively supports local community initiatives and promotes sustainable practices.
  • Key to their success:
    • Giving back to the community: Supporting local musicians, hosting charity events, and partnering with eco-friendly initiatives demonstrate their commitment to social responsibility.
    • Emphasis on live music: Featuring a diverse range of local musicians, they create a vibrant atmosphere and showcase the region’s musical talent.
    • Fresh, locally sourced seafood: Focusing on sustainably caught fish and shellfish, they offer a delicious and authentic taste of the Irish coast.

Lessons for Aspiring Entrepreneurs:

  • Find your niche and build a unique selling point: Stand out from the crowd by offering an experience that resonates with your target audience.
  • Embrace local history and culture: Weave the story of your region into your business, creating a richer experience for guests.
  • Prioritize sustainability and responsible practices: Minimize your environmental impact and connect with conscious travelers.
  • Collaborate with local businesses and communities: Partnering with others strengthens your offering and supports the local economy.
  • Offer outstanding service and personalization: Create lasting memories for your guests through genuine hospitality and attention to detail.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: What is the future outlook for the Northern Ireland hospitality industry?

The future is bright! Increased interest, a diversified tourism strategy, and a focus on sustainability and talent development position the industry for continued growth.

Q: How can my hospitality business contribute to sustainability in Northern Ireland?

Implement eco-friendly practices like local sourcing, waste reduction, and energy efficiency. Promote your efforts to attract environmentally conscious travelers.

Q: What are the career opportunities in Northern Ireland’s hospitality industry?

From chefs and tour guides to event planners and hotel managers, a diverse range of exciting and rewarding careers exist. The industry actively invests in training and development.

Q: How can I attract and retain skilled staff in my hospitality business?

Offer competitive salaries and benefits, create a positive work environment, and provide clear career progression opportunities. Highlight the industry’s dynamism and connect with local educational institutions.

Q: Where can I find more information and resources for hospitality businesses in Northern Ireland?

Contact your local tourism board, explore online resources like Hospitality Ulster, and network with other businesses in the industry.

Hospitality in Northern Ireland: Conclusion:

Northern Ireland’s hospitality industry, brimming with potential, welcomes you with open arms. By understanding the challenges and opportunities, embracing innovation and sustainability, and investing in talent, you can be part of its exciting journey. So, whether you’re a seasoned entrepreneur or a passionate newcomer, seize the chance to contribute to this vibrant landscape and share the magic of Northern Ireland with the world.

Remember, the tides of the hospitality industry change, but with resilience, adaptability, and a focus on offering authentic and sustainable experiences, your business can navigate the currents and find its own harbor of success. Dive in, ride the wave, and discover the endless possibilities that await in Northern Ireland.

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