Ask the Manager – JP Kavanagh – The Shelbourne, Dublin

Can I have a short biography of your career? 

I am from Dublin and the son of a hotelier. I have a degree in Management Science from Trinity and followed that with Hotel Management in the School of Catering, Dublin.

My career has been mainly in five-star properties, in London, Scotland and Dubai. I returned to Dublin in 2016 to become General Manager of Belmond’s Grand Hibernian, Ireland’s only first-class touring train. In March 2018, I was appointed as General Manager of The Shelbourne. 

The Shelbourne will be 200 years old in 2024, can you give me a short history? Are there plans to commemorate this milestone?  

The Shelbourne opened in 1824 and has played a significant role in the literary, social, political, culinary and artistic traditions of Irish society. Next year we will celebrate 100 years of the Irish Constitution which was famously drafted in The Shelbourne in 1922, in the room now named The Constitution Suite. 

2024 is already promising to be a very interesting year of revelries, we have lots of exciting plans for celebrating these milestones which we cannot wait to share with the public. The Shelbourne always has been, and always will be, a place where its guests will find an authentic welcome, profound comfort, and the very best of everything. 

How has business been since re-opening in the summer?  

Since the summer our business has continued to steadily grow, and it has moved from domestic leisure predominantly to a mix of high-end international leisure traveller. That includes US incentive groups, corporate board groups and domestic leisure visiting for shopping and sporting events. We are delighted to be welcoming guests back to The Shelbourne. 

What type of outdoor dining does your property have?    

We opened The Terrace in Summer 2019 and it is an extremely popular location for outdoor dining, so popular that we opened a second outdoor space, Terrace 31 in the summer 2021. 

The Terrace Area at The Shelbourne Hotel

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

Recruitment continues to be a challenge industry wide with a large amount of the work force leaving hospitality for other industries that have not been as greatly impacted as us. The government subsidies have been essential for sustaining our industry during the ongoing period of restrictions. We have also had to work much closer as a team and be much more flexible in our approach. Our focus as a property is recruit, train and retain. 

What changes have you made to enhance guests’ experience?   

The Shelbourne has introduced contactless mobile check-in and mobile key where guests can use their mobile device to open their room. This has been a critical enhancement for us and has been mutually beneficial throughout the pandemic. As the Covid guidelines have softened, we have re-introduced touch points both in our rooms and in some of our service interactions. 

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

They are better than last year but still somewhat lower than what we would be accustomed to in the absence of restrictions. 

Are there signs of the return of business travel and meetings?

Yes, there is – our forward bookings for conferences and business meetings are strong with a mixture of new bookings and rebooking in 2022 of business that had to postpone this year.  

Where do your guests come from mainly? Are there any signs of a return of overseas guests?  

Our guests this year have predominately been from the domestic market, However, once the restrictions were eased in July we have seen a steady increase weekly in guests arriving from overseas, in particular the US. 

What challenges do you feel Dublin is facing with reduced air capacity to the capital?   

As an island, air lift is crucial and has been in growing our travel industry over the past few years. The US market is particularly important to us and we would be the envy of other similar sized countries. It is essential for our industry and for the growth of our economy to re-build these international links and get it back to full capacity.  

Until full air access returns there will be a continued reliance on the domestic market for the remainder of 2021. The return of air capacity will be key for 2022.  

Have you any special offers to entice guests to The Shelbourne?  

We are currently offering an overnight stay with breakfast and parking from €420 per room per night. Book 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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