Arena decision is ‘absolute shambles’, says Bristol hoteliers association chairman

Interview | South West

Imran Ali

Imran Ali, general manager of the Radisson Blu Hotel, took over as Bristol Hoteliers Association chairman from Mark Payne, on April 6, 2018.

In this interview with BLM, Ali speaks about how he’s found the role since taking over, issues surrounding parking within Bristol city centre and the much-talked about Bristol arena plans.

Imran Ali, general manager of the Radisson Blu Hotel, took over as Bristol Hoteliers Association chairman from Mark Payne, on April 6, 2018.

In this interview with BLM, Ali speaks about how he’s found the role since taking over, issues surrounding parking within Bristol city centre and the much-talked about Bristol arena plans.

You’ve been in the role for a couple of months now, how are you finding it so far?

It’s early days. We set out the expectations when I took over the role and we’re working on achieving these. We’re trying to grow our influence across the city as well as gaining more members to the association as well.

Coming into the role what sort of things did you want to change?

There were a couple of burning issues for hoteliers in the city and on a national level which we wanted to address. One of them is the much-talked about arena and then there’s transport issues in Bristol. But we also have challenges like Airbnb which are coming into our space, whether that be internationally, nationally or regionally. So we’re looking at how we combat it.

Then obviously, we have Brexit, which no one is really talking about at the moment. From what I can see there’s going to be a massive recruitment gap down the line and as hoteliers we need to be prepared.

You’ve been quite vocal on the fact that the Bristol arena needs to be in the city centre, please explain your stance on this.

Bristol council is always hot on sustainability and we see a lot of green projects going on, so with that in mind, having the arena right next to the train station will mean visitors use more public transport to get them to the arena. This will hopefully result in less cars coming into the city centre and less traffic, which I’m sure follows the council’s green ethics.

I don’t know why we are thinking of taking it outside of the city. It’s beyond me. It’s not just hotels which will be affected by the decision of where the arena goes, it will also impact restaurants, retail and transport and local attractions.

A Lot has been made about Cardiff and its development compared to Bristol, what are your thoughts on this?

Bristol is behind on a few items such as cultural, sport and music. Cardiff is an events mecca, if you look at it, they’ve got the strategy spot on, everything revolves around the train station. I don’t ever think about driving into Cardiff to see an event, because the transport into the city is so easy – it works.

Cardiff is attractive to event organisers because they have a model which works and is proven and I think copying this  strategy would work here in Bristol.

There’s a clear structure and a clear strategy. We’ve been talking about the arena for years and there’s no consistency with who’s planning it. There’s also mixed messages coming from the council and that doesn’t help.

I’m sorry to say – but it’s a shambles, an absolute shambles.

Another issue around Bristol is parking with the council looking to charge on Bank Holidays and Sundays, what are your thoughts on this?

We have made it very clear that if you’re going to have an arena in the city centre you need to have parking available. I know at first there were plans to have at least 200 parking spaces, which sounded great. But recently there’s been talk of charging for parking on Sundays and Bank Holidays, which we have very vigorously objected. This is unacceptable.

It’s been a very poorly thought out plan with no consultation. At the moment we have seven or eight restaurants which have closed down since the start of the year in the city centre and the last thing you should do is kick them more in the teeth by implementing these charges.

It’s not something we’ll accept.

What is the relationship between yourselves and the council?

There is none. We have tried to get hold of representatives to come and speak with us and after three months we’ve finally been successful, but it’s been frustrating. The hotel sector in Bristol generates £160m turnover a year, but feel like we’re nobody.

We want to work on getting them on our side, to talk with them about issues like the car parking charges and other things. One of our objectives for this year is to build a relationship.

How do you aim to increase the numbers for the association?

We need to bang a drum about what we achieved last year and what our ambition is for next year and beyond. The second thing is continuing to build a good profile within the city whereby we’re looked at being one of the main partners or collabroators in making sure the city’s hospitality scene is well respected.

What would be the final vision for your tenure as head of the hoteliers association?

The first thing would be to sort out our transportation issues in the city. The second one would be to open conversations between the council and the association. These talks need to be honest and transparent and collaborative. The biggest thing for me would be to get the arena done. It would be top off my list, for sure.

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  1. Hello, I am interested to know if there will be any ride on or zero turn lawn mower representative there to ask questions. I would appreciate any feed back. Kind regards. John

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