As noted earlier, Brussels is becoming a solid city for hotel investment. Today, the city's luxury segment got a substantial boost when Corinthia Hotels announced its acquisition of the former Hotel Astoria in Brussels. This part-listed property has stood vacant for 10 years, but will now be renovated and rebranded the Corinthia Grand Hotel Astoria.
The hotel was built in 1909 at the request of King Leopold II, and was owned by the same family (the Devillers family, with the granddaughter marrying into the Goossens Bara family) until 2007, when it was purchased by a Gulf-based fund that has since scaled down its hotel investment program. Over the years, the hotels guests included former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.
The acquisition is part of an €80-million project to acquire and renovate the property, which is owned by a Belgian company (Hotel Astoria b.v.) that has been incorporated since the early fifties. "It is this company, in its entirety, that we acquired via NLI Holdings Limited, our company owning the Corinthia Hotel in London, in which our holding company International Hotel Investments plc is the managing partner," Corinthia CEO Simon Naudi said. International Hotel Investments was launched as a publicly traded company in 2000 and is the holding company for all Corinthia hotels, the Corinthia brand, and Corinthia’s development, project management and development arms.
When it opens in 2019, the Corinthia Grand Hotel Astoria will have 121 rooms and suites. The hotel’s façade and ground floor are listed and protected from demolition, but the upper bedroom floors are currently stripped down to bricks while awaiting full reconstruction. The purchase also includes adjoining land for future expansion. Construction will begin once all designs are completed.
Corinthia is planning to announce more luxury hotel projects in the coming weeks. "We are working on an exciting partnership with a leading Group in Dubai and we are also working on projects in Rome and in New York," Naudi said. "We are looking to expand the group, using our flagship hotel in London as a model for future projects. While in the past we have always sought to own the property, we are now also looking at flying the Corinthia flag by operating third party properties through management contracts." Notably, this is Corinthia's first hotel acquisition since the Corinthia London.
A presence in Brussels was important to the Corinthia brand, Naudi said, as the city is ranked second worldwide and first place in Europe for conferences according to the Union of International Association. "Brussels welcomes an estimated 6.3 million overnight visitors a year," Pisani said, noting that approximately 52 percent of those visits are business-related. "Brussels hosts many international associations, as well as the EU parliamentary institutions and NATO. In addition to politics and business, Brussels has a stable but growing tourism industry. The Belgian and Brussels Tourism Authorities have invested in an increase in museums, galleries, exhibitions and events to help promote the city as a weekend destination.
"Yet Brussels is an international city with very little hotel product worthy of five-star status, in spite of the city being the capital of Belgium, home to numerous corporates and the seat of the EU, the European Parliament, NATO, diverse embassies and consulates, lobbyists and defense contractors.
"So we see this as a gap in the market to now fill," Naudi said, noting that the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels were not a deterrent for development.