Ask The Manager – Fergus O’Halloran, The Twelve Hotel, Galway

Can I have a short description of your career? 

Originally from Galway, I am a graduate of the National University of Ireland, Galway and Les Roches Hotel Management School in Switzerland. Following a successful career at some of Canada’s top hotels and restaurants, I moved back to Ireland in 2004. I became involved in all aspects of the design, planning and philosophy of luxury boutique hotel, The Twelve Hotel in Bearna, where I have been General Manager since opening in March 2007. 

I am passionate about wine and was awarded Ireland’s top sommelier a few years back and have won Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence for one of the most outstanding wine lists in the world every year since 2008. 

When did The Twelve open and who owns it?   

The Twelve opened in March 2007 at twelve noon and is owned by Ladoce ltd. 

During the lockdown, last year, did you find time to make any changes to the Twelve?  

Yes, changes included a takeaway that offered a full restaurant menu, 3-course boxed menus, or a home pizza kit. For drinks, we offered craft-brewed beers in craft jars, cocktails, and wine.  A full pantry of spa products was also available to customers. 

We repurposed part of our outdoor space to create Nóin, our colorful and chic heated outdoor area that is loved by guests for cocktails or a bite to eat. We created an online shop with Shopify and have had great return customers, particularly for our wine, wine subscriptions, and the wine club.  

For pets, we offered a curated range of food in line with Georgina Campbell’s pet-friendly hotel of the year last year as well as a range of products for the pantry. These were all made in-house by the kitchen chefs. 

We also launched our Brown Bag cocktails which were vac-packed and posted nationwide and still see huge demand for them almost two years on! We have lots of exciting plans coming too and are currently working on our Bakery Shop and expanding our treatment rooms for Le Petit Spa. 

What type of dining and food services does the hotel have?   

We like to think we cover all tastes and occasions at The Twelve. Our Executive Chef Martin O’Donnell and the team really know what our locals and guests travelling from further afield are looking for. We have casual dining in The Pins Bar, family pizza night at Pizza Dozzina, a special birthday cake from The Twelve Bakery.

A fine dining experience is available in the multi award-winner West restaurant. Our ethos is always the same – local ingredients, cooked simply, full of flavour and made to be enjoyed with family and friends. I work closely with Martin when pairing wines from our award-winning wine list. 

 

How has business been lately?

Very good relatively speaking, always a challenge but it’s in our DNA to meet any and every challenge head-on. Our success in this area has made us stronger as a team and stronger as a brand. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we dug deep and supported each other.  

We came up with amazing ideas and reinvented ourselves so many times, all the while making us stronger. Many of the innovations are now part of our offering. For example, our brown bag cocktail concept has us posting out an average of 25 cocktails a week to go into letterboxes in Ireland.

The online shop has created a whole new revenue stream and our Twelve at Home is as busy in itself as the restaurants. It has been like adding a third restaurant to our premises. This character and integrity were recently rewarded as a great win by The Irish Design and Craft Council of Ireland.  

Its an amazing little hotel we have. We always seem to be the first at something and always do it well. We punch so much above our weight. My team are expected to come up with ideas and I see my role then as one of stewardship. What needs to be added, subtracted or thought out more to make the idea a successful part of the operation and be appreciated by our guests. 

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

We have been challenged but have come through it still standing. We have all pitched in as a team and kept everything ticking over so that guests have never been impacted. It’s been tough and it’s not over yet. As mentioned previously, the new challenge will be to balance the unbridled demand with the lifting of restrictions on what our operation can deliver on.  

The Twelve Hotel Galway

We will be short-staffed without a doubt for the next few months. There will be massive competition for staff now and our location outside of the city has always been a drawback for us. So, I have to look after the people I have and hopefully, slowly add new team players. My goal this year is to make our industry and The Twelve the ‘Best Place to Work’ 

What plans have you got to enhance guests’ experience? 

We will focus as ever on having the best, happy people as our team members and training them in the university of The Twelve. Everything else is ‘the little things’ which we constantly come up with to wow our guests and set us apart from any competition. We are currently giving our Bakery Shop a complete make-over.  

After the shop has been completed, we plan on investing more in our le petit spa. I want it to be in a much-improved space and have a wonderful Instagramable quality. We will start on this project in November. 

I have just started a beekeeping course. I have always wanted to have beehives on our roof space and I hope to have hives by this summer. This will be brought into the guest experience in ways such as serving our very own actual honey and perhaps even visits onto the roof! 

How are bookings doing?   

It has been slow this month but we know things will pick up. Friday evening, as soon as the Taoiseach made his announcement, the phones were hopping for the restaurants and online bookings suddenly shot up. We expect summer to be as great as always. We are optimistic and understand what challenges may well still lie ahead though. You’ll never see me dancing in the streets! 

Where do your guests come from mainly?    

Ireland – east coast mainly then Europe followed by USA and Canada. 65% of our guests are repeat customers and on average these guests visit 1.5 times per year. 

Have you any special offers?   More so special experiences packaged as opposed to special offers – Always on  here.

We partner with very many new businesses such as distilleries, breweries, fishermen, vegetable growers, storytellers, dog groomers, anyone who can offer an experience we can put into a package for us to offer to our guests. This is what authentic sustainable tourism means to me. Food tourism is also a key element in our ethos and identity.

Joan Scales
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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