The future affects everybody differently, and this is especially true in such a diverse industry as hospitality. Every restaurant, café, bar, and hotel, is completely unique, and their successes are unique. Their challenges, and how they overcome them, are also unique.
There is no one size fits all solution to anything in hospitality – give two publicans identical resources and identical bars, and they will create two wildly different operations, both very much viable for their own reasons.
Such individualistic traits are arguably most apparent in hotels, especially ones whose history stretches back hundreds of years. With that in mind, we spoke to Killashee Hotel’s General Manager Dee Nix about the property’s history, it’s development, and how its unique attributes create their own set of challenges and opportunities.
Killashee as it is today has its origins as a Victorian Jacobean hunting lodge, before being turned over to the Lá Sainte Union Sisters, a French order of nuns, in 1921. The last lessons were held in 1998. “The hotel opened in November 2000 where we hosted weddings and functions,” said Dee Nix. “We literally opened for the wedding served breakfast the next morning and then closed until the next event.”
“In March 2001 we opened Turners Restaurant and The Gallery Lounge and the first bedroom block followed soon after in April, with the second block following two years later,” she continued. The leisure centre opened in 2002 and, predicting a future trend, the spa opened in 2004. In 2014 the hotel was sold to Brehon Capital, now known as Tetrarch – putting Killashee in the same stable as Citywest Hotel and Mount Juliet. The purchase has allowed for the rollout of a capital investment program in recent years, as well as access to shared resources and an increased emphasis on deep dive analytics on guest demographics and patterns.
Killashee has retained its initial focus on weddings and conferences and still generates significant business from the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions) sector. Its focus on business tourism has placed it as one of the leading hotels in the country for large events.
“We had more weddings this summer and in turn more wedding guests staying over,” said Dee when asked about 2019’s conference sales to date. “Our leisure rooms were slightly up as were our local corporate bedrooms, however we have seen a slight decline of conference business in the summer compared to 2018.”
Like most, Dee is acutely aware of shifting demographics and the need to stay on top of these movements. The percentage of visitors to Killashee from the UK has contracted 3.5% so far in 2019 compared to the previous year, while American visitors are up 2.5% during the same period. Dee predicts an increase in international stays going into 2020 – primarily from Europe, but also from a continued uptick from the American market.
Brexit and the VAT increase are of course issues weighing on Dee and her team. The former has the potential to choke inbound tourism, yet the latter is forcing operators to tip their prices up.
“With Brexit coming closer and closer, do any of us really know what it will bring?” asks Dee. “We are concerned of course in relation to food, our suppliers and indeed our visitors. We most certainly will be affected, with the biggest challenge being trying to replace the lost business, find quality suppliers and try our best to hold costs.”
“We are very lucky in the fact that we have a good business base with strong conference and weddings and great support from our locals, so this is a huge comfort to us as we approach a difficult time,” she continued.
The hotel has become renowned for its family friendly nature and indeed was recently shortlisted as best Family Friendly Hotel in the 2020 Georgina Campbell Irish Food & Hospitality Awards. “Our family market has become extremely strong, however its seasonal,” said Dee. “Here at Killashee, there has been a particular focus on creating an all-inclusive package for families. The inclusion of meals, onsite activities, kids club and discounts to local attractions works very well.”
For Killashee, it’s imperative to retain staff in order to provide a consistent service. Given the hotel’s high volume of business from weddings and conferences, this kind of focus is more important here than in most other destinations. “I am always of the mindset that you are only as good as the people around you and every individual here plays a very important role in the guest’s experience,” said Dee. “We have 120 full time staff and 100 part time staff and out of this we have 65 people here five years or more.”
Such a level of staff retention is hard fought. In the modern era, hotels are competing for trained staff not just by way of appropriate pay, but with a multitude of perks all wrapped up in the name of employee wellbeing. “We would have different initiatives running throughout the hotel for example gym memberships for all employees, discounted treatments in the spa, a bike to work scheme, healthy meals provided, and personalised water bottles to name just a few,” explained Dee.
In the kitchen, Executive Chef Phillip Gleeson oversees two restaurants each with their own menu, while also keeping on top of emerging trends such as the need for gluten free options, the push for sustainability and provenance, and the ever-increasing popularity of bespoke cocktails and afternoon tea.
The hotel’s recently renovated flagship restaurant, Turners, overlooks the gardens and is open for breakfast, afternoon tea and evening meals at the weekend. “It really is a beautiful room and is very popular for afternoon tea where we would do anything up to 80 covers on a Saturday and Sunday,” said Dee. The Bistro Bar, meanwhile, is open seven days a week and is the more casual of the two, offering a cocktail menu in addition to a full food service.
Taking ownership of a space is vital if a business is to survive in the coming years. For Killashee that means business tourism and large events such as weddings. And like every business, its approach is unique and its philosophy is unique, yet one many others can learn from.