Irish five-star hotels ‘lose the hospitality factor’

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Ireland’s carefully cultivated tourism image as a land of a hundred thousand welcomes took a hit this week when one of the big names in the hospitality industry suggested that the welcome that awaits guests at some hotels high end is not what it should be.

“In our independent and anonymous reviews across the country, we have again encountered disappointments, and particularly with some four and five star hotels, where there really should be no excuse,” said Georgina Campbell in her speech. annual Food & Hospitality conference. Rewards in Dublin.

“There is a disturbing lack of a sense of hospitality in some instances and poor training, if any noticeable training at all,” she continued and described as “confusing” the low standards she observed in the best establishments every year.

What about the invisible general manager? It can’t be budget cuts, not with the prices they charge

The Irish hotel industry prides itself on the uniqueness of its hospitality. This is considered to be one of the main reasons why more than 10 million people come from overseas to Ireland every year and pay high prices to stay in beautiful hotels. Take the welcome and what do we have? Weather? The value? The breathtaking architecture? Wonders of the world?

When contacted after the event by The Irish Times, Campbell developed her point of view.

“The absence of a host or a general manager is sometimes really striking,” she says. “You don’t know who is responsible.”

She travels a lot and says that too many four and five star hotels provide anything but exceptional service. “The receptionists can be perfectly pleasant and the staff can have all the fancy uniforms and formality, but we risk losing hospitality, and that’s it.

People expect better standards, she argues. “What about the invisible general manager?” It cannot be a question of budget cuts, nor of prices charged. I think some hotels have just forgotten about themselves and what they are.

She cites good examples of great guest experiences, including the Park Hotel in Kenmare, Harvey’s Point in Donegal and Ashford Castle on the Galway-Mayo border.

Marlfield House in Co Wexford, run by the same family for 40 years, won the Campbell’a Hotel of the Year award. She describes it as “an amazing place that is so focused on high standards but they also have a great warmth towards them.”

The industry needs to remember that ‘hospitality is what Ireland does best, and when it isn’t done right it really stands out’.

Growth

Nonetheless, these are the best days for Irish tourism. One of the brightest jewels in the Irish economic crown, it employs more than 300,000 people and generates billions of euros in turnover. Last year it was worth more than 6 billion euros, an increase of 10% from the previous year, while the number of visitors topped 11 million, a jump of 6% from 2017, with growth recorded in all markets.

But it’s a fragile industry, and Campbell’s soft criticism will reverberate throughout the industry. This has certainly been noticed at the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel in Galway, a place where management could never be called invisible.

Guests arriving at Abbeyglen are greeted by beaming owner Brian Hughes who will most often coax them to sit in an ornate chair – more of a throne really – at the entrance to the castle to have their picture taken . He hosts welcome receptions at the bar and spoils guests with stories about the hotel and the city it overlooks. He sits at breakfast and dinner and will be singing to his dinner guests in the blink of an eye.

His lived experience echoes what Campbell says. “I have been in the hotel business my entire life, and this year more than any other I have noticed people saying how rare it is to see the hotel owner actually in the hotel,” says -he.

“The business has changed dramatically since I started. What you need in this game is a little flair, a lot of enthusiasm and a real love for talking to people, but sometimes now I think what hotel managers want , it’s a degree in accounting or law. It becomes a very different game.

He says that sometimes at business conferences he is seen by some of his peers as somewhat anachronistic or, to use his own words, “a little crazy and very strange”.

Hughes accepts that he does things outside the norm. “Many hotel managers are now sitting in their desks and have a chain of command they can rely on to get it right. This is not our way. I think you have to lead by example, this is the best training you can give people. If they see me behaving in a certain way, they will reproduce it, but if they see that I don’t care, they won’t care either.

Many of his staff come from overseas, but he scoffs at any idea that they miss the warmth that tourists coming to Ireland look for because their passports show they were born in Krakow and not Clifden. “Ireland is much more multicultural today than in the past, and a large part of our staff are from Eastern Europe, but they are married in Clifden or their children go to school in Clifden” , he said.

“If a person is rooted in a community, they are more likely to be here for the long haul. A local person is no longer someone with an Irish accent but someone who is part of our community.

Niall Rochford is the Managing Director of Ashford Castle in Cong, one of Ireland’s most reputable hotels and a place accustomed to dealing with discerning guests with high expectations – a significant percentage of its guests are fine Americans. well-off, who are not afraid to complain if they are upset.

Rochford says that a good hotel employee is not born well. “Making sure we have the highest levels of service comes down to recruiting the right people,” he says.

“They need a work ethic, they need the right skills, and they need the right attitude. Once they have these three traits, it’s up to us to train them. I think you can tell within five minutes of meeting someone if they like people and have those traits.

He says the Red Carnation Hotel group, which now owns Ashford, takes service seriously and sends six secret guests every year to stay at the hotel, each with a long checklist to make sure things run smoothly.

“The most important thing is to have your managers visible,” Rochford says. The hotel employs over 400 people and expects “all of my managers to be on the ground when the operation needs them.”

He sets an example. “We are in the human relations business and have to treat people well. This is what keeps them coming back, this genuine and genuine commitment. In Ireland, when we do it right, we are the best in the world, but maybe we are not doing enough. “

What hotel guests say

We asked social media users if they had experienced particularly good or bad customer service in a hotel in Ireland? Of nearly 300 responses in less than 24 hours, over 90% were positive.

“Driving late one night from Dublin to Limerick in 2001. Passing Racket Hall, Roscrea and I had to pull over,” wrote Richard Kennedy. “I went to check after breakfast. Free. Owner at reception and knew I was arriving late. He said he was glad I stopped and didn’t fall asleep while driving.

Gerry Mongey described Adare Manor as “quite spectacular in terms of service, staff, food and accommodations. Never experienced anything like it. Specifically, John at the main entrance was so friendly, down to earth and knowledgeable, such a pleasure to chat with him ”.

There were also the worst. “One particularly bad experience we had at a hotel in Mayo was when we ordered breakfast to our room,” recalls Niamh Fitzpatrick. “My vegetarian breakfast contained black pudding. Before the waiter left, I asked him to take it back and he said, “What’s wrong?” It’s blood, not meat ”.


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