Ask the Manager – Ali McHugh – The Harbour Hotel, Galway

Can I have a summary of your career?  

I studied International Commerce with Spanish in NUI Galway with the intention of working in Accounting or Corporate Law, but was more taken with my weekend jobs in hotels through school and college. I moved to Dublin after my degree to do the Jurys Doyle Graduate Training programme. I stayed with Jurys Doyle for six years at The Croke Park Hotel, and a further year at The Westbury.   

In 2014 I moved to The Spencer as Food & Beverage Manager, which was then part of Fitzpatrick Lifestyle Hotels. I was promoted to Deputy General Manager there and in May 2016 moved to sister property The Beacon in Sandyford as Hotel Manager. The Beacon was purchased by MHL in November 2016, and I have been working with MHL since. In 2018 I was delighted when an opportunity arose to move back to Galway to the Harbour Hotel, where I have been working as General Manager since. 

When did the Harbour Hotel open?  

We opened in 2001 as a 3-star Hotel at the time. In the past five years we have completed a full refurbishment, and in 2018 we were upgraded to 4-star property. 

What type of outdoor dining does the hotel have?   

An Gáirdín is our outdoor terrace, part of our Dillisk on the Docks Bar and Restaurant. It’s cosy and relaxing with individual booths, soft lighting, and of course the heat and weatherproofing needed in Galway.

How has business been this summer?  

Galway has been the playground of Ireland this summer, so we have really benefitted from our city centre location. We have had a great summer, welcoming a different type of guest, and have found that our guests are making more use of the hotel, with our restaurant Dillisk on the Docks busier than ever. We have had fantastic feedback from our guests all summer, and expect to see this increase in domestic travel to continue, along with the return of our international guests.  

How have you coped with staff shortages, if you had any?  

We have been really lucky in that the majority of our pre 2020 team came back when we reopened fully this summer. We have found it more challenging than normal to fill our vacant positions, which meant hiring people with less hospitality experience, and lots of opportunities for training and development with the team. We have found our business levels are consistently busier than we had anticipated prior to reopening, we are continuously hiring and recruiting great talent.

What changes have you made to enhance guests’ experience?  

Our recent full refurbishment added air conditioning to all guest rooms, which we have found more useful than ever this past summer. In spring we developed a new website and imagery of the hotel and the city to enhance the booking experience for our guests. While our guests stay with us we offer a free Interactive Walking Tour of Galway so people get to learn a little about the city’s heritage. We are lucky to have the departure point for the new Aran Islands Ferries right next door. From an environmental perspective we have recently been awarded the Green Hospitality Eco Label for our work in reducing our carbon footprint. 

How are bookings going, what is the autumn looking like?   

With the reopening of indoor dining and small-scale festivals re-emerging, the short-term prospects are strong for Galway city and county. We are already seeing a return to corporate business midweek, and out weekends continue to be strong with bookings for families, and groups of friends. 

Where do your guests come from mainly?  

The majority of our guests are still from within Ireland, but we are delighted to see some more international travellers over the last few weeks, and this is continuing into 2022. 

As an island nation, air access is crucial for the tourism sector. As we emerge from the pandemic, we would hope that more and more access routes are re-established. 

Can I have a photograph of you in your favourite spot in the Harbour?  

The lobby has always been my favourite spot in the hotel. It’s where we get to offer a real West of Ireland welcome to our guests, and the team create a warm first and last impression for everyone who visits us here at the Harbour. 

For autumn special offers in the Harbour Hotel, see here.

Joan Scales
Award-winning journalist, Joan has been writing about travel and tourism for many years principally for The Irish Times and lately for travel2ireland. Joan has appeared many times on television and radio talking about the business of travel and all its component strands. She is also a public speaker and has appeared at many international conventions and conferences.

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