I was educated in Kells, Co Meath, and initially trained as a chef. I then graduated in Hotel Management at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. My career covers thirty years of experience and education in UK, Ireland, Germany and the USA.
In 1998, I returned to Ireland to work with Fitzpatrick Hotels, Dublin. I then went on to open the Station House Hotel in Clifden in 1998 followed by the Marriott Hotel in Galway City in 2005. Currently as GM of the five-star Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast I led the hotel to achieve five-star status in 2016 and was awarded AA Hotel of the Year Northern Ireland 2019-2020.
How did you feel when you heard the news that the hotel could reopen on May 24th?
Absolutely delighted! The news came as a tremendous boost for everyone and gave us back that collective sense of purpose. The announcement was re-invigorating when we realised we were getting back to doing what we do best. Since welcoming our team and our guests once again, I haven’t looked back.
What have you been doing during the lockdown?
After the initial shock of the first hotel closure, we quickly turned our attention to our recovery and re-opening. We used this time to really assess the business and come up with new and innovative ways to do things better. Someone once told me, “You can either be bitter or you can be better” and this really resonated with me through this time.
I kept in touch with our entire team and ensured that we kept communicating throughout the whole of lockdown. Together we improved our ways of working and introduced new ideas and products, such as, ‘Takeaway Afternoon Tea’, a new ‘Crafternoon Tea’ experience with more hearty, savoury offerings, kid’s teepees, and additional ‘add-on enhancements’ for guest stays.
From a marketing and sales perspective, we knew that business travel, trade shows, and in-person meetings would be on pause for some time. So we had to come up with ways to engage with our clients in a new virtual world. This has included a brand new virtual 3-d tour, new hotel promotional videos, and of course using Zoom, Skype, and new technologies. We have been talking and listening to our customers more than ever on many different platforms.
My priorities were to keep the team engaged and informed, understand the needs and wants of our customers, ensure the health and safety of everyone, and implement clear strategies to help turn things around and move forward.
How has it felt to be back in business?
The people make the place, and it is wonderful to have the team back to work full-time and have the usual hustle-and-bustle within the hotel. We work in hospitality because we love people, we love welcoming guests and taking care of them – so it feels amazing to be able to do that.
Does the Fitzwilliam have outdoor dining?
Yes, we now have a small area of occasional seating outside where you can sip a cocktail or have a light snack and watch the world go by.
What plans have you got for the summer to enhance guests experience?
We communicate with our customers now more so than ever, and we have invested more time and effort in helping guests get the most of their stay. For example, we have included a ‘local guide’ to Belfast on our website to help people enjoy the best of the city, and we have paired up with some local attractions for special packages.
We have also teamed up with Shortcross Gin to offer a special gin amenity in-room on arrival for gin lovers, a ‘Summer Sips’ package for cocktail fans, and other enhanced in-room amenity offers. We have listened to what our guests want and need, and of course this is the year of the domestic staycation!
The Fitzwilliam Hotel is popular with A-Listers from television and films. I know you cannot tell us who stays there but is there any odd requests you have had over the years?
We get all sorts of requests – from celebrities and non-celebrities – and I have to say, nothing is out of the question. Some guests have requested furniture removed and replaced with a fully equipped gym within their suite. Some like to have their room set to a very specific temperature at all times.
Others may have a very particular brand of coffee or water or even scented candles that they like. We try to find out as much as we can about guest preferences before they arrive, and we always try to exceed their expectations. We deal with all sorts of weird and wonderful requests and thankfully we make it work!
Are they many bookings in the system for the Penthouse?
Yes, we’re seeing an increased trend in guests requesting upgraded room types for additional space and privacy, and people are coming to stay for that little bit longer. The Penthouse in particular has been popular as it’s so unique and offers exceptional luxury and privacy. Of course, the south-facing wrap-around terrace in The Penthouse has an extra appeal in these summer months!
How are bookings going, do you think it will be a strong summer?
So far so good, and I am hopeful for a strong summer. The bookings have been quite last-minute compared to normal, as people aren’t able to plan too far ahead at the moment. Plans change so much, and people are looking for last-minute offers and flexible booking policies.
Have you noticed a big increase in guests from the Republic?
Normally we have lots of international guests, especially over the summer months but this year our guests are much closer to home. We’ve seen a huge increase in our ROI guests and at the moment most of our guests are from Ireland, north and south.
Have you any special offers to entice visitors back to your hotel?
Yes, we have a range of ‘Summer staycation’ overnight packages, so there is something to suit everyone – friends, families, and couples coming to The Fitzwilliam for a well-deserved break. All are available on the website. We always offer the best deals and flexible cancellation for direct bookings.