Ask the Manager – Mark Nolan, Dromoland Castle, County Clare

Dromoland Castle at Night

Can I have a short biography of your career? 

Initially, I began my career at 17 in Ashford Castle and that gave me the incentive to do the diploma in hotel management in Galway Regional, now GMIT. My career took me to work in Germany and in New York and then back to Ashford for six years with the renowned Rory Murphy. I then came to Dromoland Castle, as general manager and here I am now 32 years later and still loving it. 

How has business been in the past two years during the pandemic? 

Needless to say, it has been a very difficult time. We had a call with our investors on 20 March, 2020 and they said, “what do you need?” There was a share issue to investors and it was oversubscribed and raised €5 million. That took the immediate pressure off everybody. It should also be acknowledged that what Paschal Donohoe as Minister for Finance and the government did to support businesses has been fantastic. 

The Irish have been amazing for the last two years, people who would never have stayed with us, did. And are coming back again. They booked in and paid good rates, and spent plenty of money on food and beverage.  

In many cases it may have been the first time they might have taken a holiday in a while. We had all the protocols in place and people felt secure; after all we are in hospitality not the hospital industry. Traditionally Dromoland Castle, would have had up to 70% American guests and 2019 was our “gold” year. 

What changes have you made to enhance guests’ experience? 

During the lockdown we developed some areas of the castle and estate that could be isolated and provided butler service for guests. Over the past two years we have developed our estate more, with the help of our staff. There are new deer trails through the woods; we have 500 acres of woodland. These will be in addition the many activities we have on the estate including fishing, golf, falconry, paddle-boarding and more.  We also have a beautiful spa, where guests can relax and unwind. 

How did you cope with staff shortages, if you had any? 

Every hotel is having recruitment challenges, we less that others, as we kept people busy with community and estate work. We are looking for staff at every level, it’s the nature of our business. Educators say that the greatest challenges to hotel management, are surprisingly, parents. Because the industry has been so hard hit, they do not see it as a good career choice for their children. 

Other practicalities have also affected recruitment, for example, banks are reluctant to lend mortgages in an industry that has been mainly closed for two years. 

What type of outdoor dining does your hotel have? 

I think one of the interesting things that happened during the pandemic is the rise in popularity of outdoor dining. So much so, that we will be providing more outdoor dining for guests. 

What did your staff do during the lockdowns? 

While we may have been closed a lot during the various lockdowns it has given us at Dromoland Castle an opportunity to get involved in the local community. Our staff began by helping with community projects such as meals on wheels, road repairs, and improvement of O’Malley Park. A lot of work was done on the golf course by staff and it is looking great. 

How are booking doing this year?   

Following the announcement by the Taoiseach, two weeks ago, the pace has picked up dramatically. We are beginning see a bit of recovery, though it will be mainly leisure, families and multi-generational families. We won’t do as much group business this year.  I am delighted to see weddings coming back to Dromoland, as in some cases they were re-booked up to four times.

What challenges do you feel the mid-west in facing with reduced air capacity to Shannon? 

I would constantly be in touch with the board of Shannon Airport asking them how can we them. Shannon is a key part of our access. We are confident of the return of New York and Boston services from mid-March, but the other routes will be a slow build. Ryanair has a lot of extra routes out of Shannon. Ideally, we would love to see some new routes from Europe into the Midwest.  

Have you any special offers to entice guests to Dromoland Castle? 

Yes, until the end of February we have three nights for the price of two, see here.  

Thank you. 

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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