New Belfast Chamber president sets out city’s business’s vision to build Belfast back better

One of Northern Ireland’s most successful hospitality operators, Michael Stewart, has been elected as the new President of Belfast Chamber.

Michael is Director of House Belfast, the hotel, bar and restaurant in Botanic Avenue, as well as running his own consultancy and training business for the hospitality trade, Bar Czar Limited.

Michael’s career in the hospitality industry spans over three decades, working in and running many of the top bars, clubs and restaurants in Belfast, including Bob Cratchits, Bambu Beach Club, The Potthouse and Irene and Nan’s to name but a few.  Michael takes over the reins from Rajesh Rana, Director of Belfast’s biggest hotel group, Andras Hotels, who has served a highly successful two-year tenure.

Mr Stewart assumes the Presidency as Belfast faces the major job of rebuilding its economy after the impact of COVID-19. Belfast Chamber launched a new policy paper entitled Building Belfast Back Better which sets out 15 steps to help rebuild the city.

Commenting at Belfast Chamber’s virtual AGM, Michael Stewart said, “It is hard to conceive of a more challenging time to assume the Presidency of Belfast Chamber.

Our city’s economy has been hit hard by the restrictions imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19.  Shops were shut for months.  Hospitality venues like the one I run on Botanic Avenue are only a le to open again in a weeks’ time after more than 3 months closed. Offices are empty with thousands working from home. 

We don’t yet know the scale of the impact on the economy, but we can predict with some certainty that we will enter a recession, many jobs will go and lots of businesses may not survive.

It would be the easiest thing in the world to look at a scenario like the one we are in and be pessimistic. Coming so soon after the financial crash and the uncertainty ceased by Brexit, this was absolutely the last thing that Belfast’s economy needed.  But, of course, there is little we can do about what created this crisis.  What we can do is bring the same sort of discipline and determination we did to tackling the coronavirus and apply it to the pursuit of economic recovery.

I don’t believe that we should simply aspire to get back to where we were.  We should aim for better.  That’s why Belfast Chamber is today encouraging our political leaders to work with the business community to build Belfast back better.  Our new policy paper, Building Belfast Back Better, outlines 15 steps to do just that.  Investments, interventions and initiatives like making Belfast a Christmas capital, extending Sunday opening hours, stimulating city living, revitalising our city centre and accelerating the City Deal which, if implemented, promise to create a city that fulfils its potential and is fit for whatever the future holds.

Achieving the ambitions set out in Building Belfast Back Better will require a considerable joint effort by the private and the public sectors. If ever there was a time for coming together, for working together, it is now. That is what Belfast Chamber is all about. We are the voice of business in Belfast. That voice has been strong and influential throughout the COVID-19 crisis speaking our for our member and succeeding in shaping government decisions.  At this crucial time for our city’s economy, we need all the strength and all the influence than we can collectively conjure to ensure that our voice is heard loudly and clearly in the chambers and committee rooms in City Hall, at Stormont and at Westminster and that are persuaded to stand side by side with Belfast Chamber and build Belfast back better”. 

Concluding, Mr Stewart set out the need for Belfast’s businesses to work closely with government in the time ahead and also for the business community in the city to continue to coalesce and work together. “Belfast Chamber prides itself on being the voice of business in the city.  Over the last few difficult months, we have learnt that collectively we are much stronger and can achieve more working together.  We have also witnessed the symbiotic relationship that exists between all sectors of our city’s economy. It might be hard to conceive of two more different business models than the bar in the Cathedral Quarter and the tech firm developing code for a New York based bank. But both rely on each other.  The bar needs the tech sector worker to come in for a pint with colleagues after work on a Friday, whilst it is the buzz and atmosphere and lifestyle generated by our retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism sectors that help attract the talent the tech businesses needs to succeed.  As we enter into one of the most uncertain periods any of us have ever faced, understanding that interwoven nature of our city’s economy and working together for our common good will be key to Belfast’s bouncing back”.