Taking its name from the historic Robert Stephenson and Co. Locomotive Works – now home to regular Boiler Shop Steamer events – it’s a part of town that has been long neglected.
However, last week’s opening of the Crowne Plaza Newcastle Stephenson Quarter is a key step in the area’s regeneration – and has added 251 more bedrooms to a Newcastle-Gateshead hotel market that shows no sign of subsiding.
It was very different less than 25 years ago. When it opened back in 1992, the Copthorne on Newcastle’s Quayside was the city centre’s first modern, high-end hotel.
Since then, the market on both sides of the Tyne has been transformed, with upmarket additions such as the Gateshead Hilton and Hotel Indigo – plus a raft of budget operators – swelling the number of available beds. More than 1,200 hotel rooms were added between 2007 and 2014 alone, and there are still more under construction, such as the soon-to-open Premier Inn in Newcastle’s old Co-op department store.
So can Newcastle and Gateshead really support such a boom in hotel numbers? Some would argue that the market is merely responding to demand, and figures from hospitality intelligence specialists HotStats appear to back this up.
In July 2015, Newcastle’s chain hotels saw both a year-on-year rise in occupancy (to 84.6%) and an increase in revenue per room, driven by growth in group tours and conferences.
In contrast, some established hotels have warned about lower occupancy rates and an increase in discounting, with one recent briefing arguing that there is “no obvious stimulus to driving either regional economic performance or room occupancy such as a conference centre.”
Whatever your perspective, the fact that Newcastle and Gateshead have become a major visitor draw – through football, shopping, culture, and headline events like the Great North Run – is not in doubt, and is something to celebrate.
Meanwhile, if the entry of flashy new players, like Crowne Plaza, prompts existing operators to up their game, maybe that’s not such a bad thing – for customers or for the city.
Written by Graham Soult