Hotelier Michael Knox-Johnston has announced ambitious plans to expand the Ramada hotel chain to make it the biggest in Ireland.
Knox-Johnston, through his company Crawford Investments, together with Ramada International Hotels and Resorts plan to add 37 hotels to the chain by 2007. Seven will be located in Northern Ireland and the rest in the Republic of Ireland.
Crawford owns the franchise for the Ramada brand in Ireland, and currently has eight hotels in the country. On Tuesday he added a ninth, the Da Vinci Hotel Complex in Londonderry.
The expansion will see the two businesses spending €307m (£211m) between them.
Tourism minister John O'Donoghue welcomed the move. "I believe it is the intention to have at least one Ramada Hotel in every county in Ireland, not only in the more densely populated areas and tourist hubs, but in other places that might not, at first glance, seem so obvious," he said.
It is understood that 27 of the hotels, which will all have a minimum of 80-bedrooms, will be new Ramada hotels and 10 will be conversions of existing properties.
According to local reports, four deals have been signed for hotels in Londonderry, Leitrim, Wicklow and Limerick. Meanwhile building work has started on a further five sites and "heads of agreement" have been drawn up on another 10.
The expansion programme is not unexpected, having been spelled out by Ramada when it sealed the franchise deal with Knox-Johnston in March.
Knox-Johnston is former chief executive of Skibo Castle and, since 1998, has been owner of the Lodge and Spa at Inchydoney Island in Ireland.
by Nic Paton
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