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A new six-part BBC series follows Northern Ireland’s largest luxury hotel chain

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Naked dudes, others trying to steal TVs from the walls or complaining that cheese is too ‘cheesy’, not to mention diva celebrities… it’s all everyday life for the team that runs the Hastings Hotel Group.

Now a new six-part BBC series follows the hard-working characters of Northern Ireland’s largest family-owned luxury hotel chain as they try to recover from one of the toughest times the hospitality industry has ever faced.

Founded over 50 years ago by Sir William Hastings, the group has seven unique hotels and is still run by his family.

But after nearly 18 months of closures and uncertainty due to the pandemic, in which they suffered losses of more than £16.5 million, the challenge now is to find inventive ways to quickly bring the business back in the face of a number of huge obstacles.

New six-part BBC series The Hotel People goes behind the scenes at the Hastings Hotel Group. LR: Kyle Greer, Sam Denning, Damian Tumilty, Trisha, Michael Weston, Stephen Meldrum, Hazel Magill, Caelan McVeigh, Joseph Neeson, Andy McNeill, Thomas Kuriakose, Scott, Rose O’Neill, Aine Finnegan, Samira, Kimberly, outside the Culloden Estate and Spa

Managing Director James McGinn, (pictured) celebrates his own personal milestone of 25 years with the group, nearly every hour of which has been spent at work

Managing Director James McGinn, (pictured) celebrates his own personal milestone of 25 years with the group, nearly every hour of which has been spent at work

The Hotel People follows Hastings’ perfectionist director James McGinn as he celebrates his own personal milestone of 25 years with the group, nearly every hour of which has been spent at work.

“The show is about normal people,” says James, who along with his team hopes to welcome more than 100,000 guests this summer.

“It’s not the Ritz, it’s not Claridges, but everything happened here. There is always some kind of drama.’

Today, Aine Finnegan, head of housekeeping at the flagship Europa hotel, is handling a somewhat spurious complaint.

“A guy just checked out and said his wife’s feet are itchy, and when he scratched his head, an insect fell out of his hair,” she says.

“Bed bugs are pretty easy to spot when they bite, they collect blood so you can see the tracks, and there’s a routine we do with torches to look for them.

Hastings Hotel Group hotel staff share stories about their experiences working in the Europa and Culloden hotels.  LR: Martin Mulholland, Chief Concierge, Europe with Stephen Meldrum, Lauren Coughlan, Sam Denning, James McGinn, Andy McNeill, Kyle Greer, Rose O'Neill and Caelan McVeigh

Hastings Hotel Group hotel staff share stories about their experiences working in the Europa and Culloden hotels. LR: Martin Mulholland, Chief Concierge, Europe with Stephen Meldrum, Lauren Coughlan, Sam Denning, James McGinn, Andy McNeill, Kyle Greer, Rose O’Neill and Caelan McVeigh

“We know we have followed the proper procedures and we know there are no problems here.

‘These are also brand new mattresses. Unfortunately we have guests who are looking for mistakes to maybe get a free night.

“And a couple tried to steal everything, including the TV from the wall.”

Dealing with difficult guests with diplomacy is an art form when working in a top hotel, and Aine has to use it when dealing with drunken guests.

“There were three boys in a room when there should have been only two. When our night manager tried to get them out last night they pushed the bed against the door.

“Now they are sober and we managed to get them out, but there are pizza boxes on the floor, cigarette ash on the windowsill and drinking up the walls.”

In the first episode, Aine Finnegan, Europe's head of household, (center) has to deal with a somewhat spurious complaint about bedbugs

In the first episode, Aine Finnegan, Europe’s head of household, (center) has to deal with a somewhat spurious complaint about bedbugs

James has seen it all before. “People arrive completely sober and happy, but then they go to the bar for a drink and then something happens,” he sighs.

“We once had a woman who walked down the halls in only her pants in the middle of the afternoon. She wanted to get in her car and drive home. It took hours to catch up with her.’

Hastings Hotels welcomes everyone from Premiership footballers and A-list stars such as Katy Perry and Sarah Jessica Parker, while making sure they don’t notice any behind-the-scenes drama.

“I remember the time when a certain celebrity took over the entire top floor and the damage they caused,” recalls Rose O’Neill, head of housekeeping at the Culloden Hotel And Spa.

Rose O'Neill, head of housekeeping at Culloden Hotel And Spa (pictured) recalls how a celebrity took over the entire top floor and caused a lot of damage

Rose O’Neill, head of housekeeping at Culloden Hotel And Spa (pictured) recalls how a celebrity took over the entire top floor and caused a lot of damage

“One of their security people also asked the concierge where they could have special ladies sent to the hotel and we had to say, ‘We don’t provide that service.’

“And another celebrity complained that our housekeeping staff were harassing her, so we hung her picture on the wall of our office and told the staff not to talk to her anymore,” Aine adds.

But now The Europa staff are over the moon at the arrival of one of Belfast’s biggest stars, singer-songwriter Van Morrison, for four nights of exclusive performances.

‘It’s a golden ticket, bring Van The Man in, because we need the money,’ says James.

‘We have to be creative and people like music.’

Van Morrison was supposed to play in the Europa (pictured) but due to the ever-changing pandemic rules for live music it was canceled the day before

Van Morrison was supposed to play in the Europa (pictured) but due to the ever-changing pandemic rules for live music it was canceled the day before

Tragically, despite guests flying in from all over the world to the concerts, the ever-changing pandemic rules for live music when the series was filmed last year meant that the performances had to be canceled the day before.

Despite two weeks of preparation and offering dinner and drinks with Van in person at social distancing tables while his music is streamed, James and the team have to deal with a crowd of disappointed guests.

“To take the sting out of the tail, we will cover all costs and guests can get their concert tickets back,” says James.

“You get a little adrenaline, the show has to go on and it went on and on.”

The group’s newest hotel is The Grand Central, which opened in 2017 and at £53 million is the most expensive hotel ever built in Northern Ireland.

The Observatory Bar on the top floor offers spectacular views of the city, afternoon tea, a high-end menu and cocktails.

Chef of The Europa Kyle Greer (pictured) recalls several complaints from London tourists, including how the goat cheese tasted too cheesy

Chef of The Europa Kyle Greer (pictured) recalls several complaints from London tourists, including how the goat cheese tasted too cheesy

Pastry chef Caitlin Lopes has been out of work today because they have a full house of afternoon tea, but things aren’t exactly running smoothly due to chronic staff shortages.

‘Four minutes before we would reopen the bar and serve afternoon tea, the bar and bathrooms had to be cleaned by the manager, and often the tea tables had to be reset by our hosts whose job is to greet the guests and check the tables says bar manager Calean McVeigh. “It’s not great.”

Chef at The Europa Kyle Greer and his team also have their frustrations.

“A lot of our complaints come from London travelers who may be expecting things like guava juice, but we’re in Belfast,” he says.

“And someone complained that the goat cheese tasted too cheesy, honestly, and I don’t know how to fix that.”

But the teams all pull together when the going gets tough.

“God knows what tomorrow will bring, but we’ve had it today and we’ll do it tomorrow and every other day,” James says.

“It’s no use getting frustrated, in the end the dude is always right.”

  • The Hotel People starts on Tuesday, August 23 on BBC2 at 8pm and can be seen on iPlayer

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