As Ireland’s hospitality sector reawakens, Barry Francis from The Wilder Townhouse in Dublin sums up the myriad of challenges facing his industry.
Originally built in 1839 and re-modelled in 2018, The Wilder Townhouse is one of the few residents-only Townhouses in Ireland. Located on Adelaide Road in Dublin 2, the 42-bedroom business located in a Victorian-listed building prides itself on offering “a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle.”
Like all businesses in the hospitality sector The Wilder was forced to close its doors in March and on 29 June reopened to a vastly different reality with a stringent focus on guest safety, but at the same time ensuring its credentials in luxury, fine dining and signature cocktails remained intact.
“The Government needs to bolster hospitality enterprises at this time, to sustain jobs and keep businesses open”
A sister hotel to the Montenotte Hotel in Cork, owned by Frankie and Josephine Whelehan, The Wilder’s management used the lockdown to innovate by introducing keyless technology as well as devising staycation and romantic getaway packages for its grant reopening.
Opportunity to innovate
But this was just the tip of the iceberg. General manager Barry Francis told ThinkBusiness about the work that went into preparing for the return to trading.
“As we navigated through the lockdown it presented us with an opportunity to carry out some housekeeping. Even though our Victorian townhouse was lovingly restored recently, we used the opportunity to refresh all our bedrooms, public areas and back of house and it was the perfect time to get our gardens in shape for the summer and the return of guests.
“We implemented various measures in line with the Failte Ireland guidelines such as a bespoke screen at reception, hand sanitising units throughout the townhouse and keyless technology for guests. We also invested in training ensuring our team can interact with guests and each other and to be fully compliant with safety protocols.
“We are in a very unique position for a premium Dublin hotel in that all of our facilities are exclusive to our small number of guests. To ensure the guest experience is not compromised we have introduced spatially laid out areas to accommodate social distancing. As we are a residents-only townhouse guests have a sense of comfort knowing that they have control over their personal space and physical distancing is easily achieved.”
The innovations also include making its own honey. The team at The Wilder Townhouse have been looking at additional ways to become even more sustainable and kinder to the environment and have partnered with the Dublin Honey Bee Project, which aims to produce honey from each of the postcodes of Dublin. This summer The Wilder Townhouse is introducing it’s very own Wilder Beehives, which will soon be producing ‘Wilder Bee’ honey.
A challenging time ahead
Asked if he thinks the measures will be in place for the long-term, Francis replied: “Certainly, until a vaccine is found. In the new normal, etiquette will play a big part in society and all hospitality businesses are adjusting and getting comfortable with new ways of running their business and interacting with customers. The safety of our guests and our team will always be paramount, but we never want to compromise the unique atmosphere at The Wilder, which we are renowned for, as well as the high level of customer service we promise.”
With staycations the new normal for holidaymakers in Ireland this year and with international tourists likely to be staying away, Francis said the rest of the year will be challenging for his sector.
“Dublin has been one of the hardest hit, even prior to Covid-19 there was arguably an oversupply of hotel rooms. Dublin is reliant on events, concerts, sporting events to drive demand, with these more or less on the shelf for the remainder of 2020 it is now time for hoteliers and the industry as a whole to come together and not just market their property but also Dublin as a destination.
“We have a very special city and we are encouraging our returning guests to enjoy all that Dublin has to offer, and perhaps looking at the city through a different lens – planning more outdoor adventures, with historic walks and trails, taking in the winding streets of Dublin as well as the parks and canals. For example, our Victorian Townhouse is very close to the famous Iveagh Gardens and many of our guests are enjoying this facility for the first time.
“It’s such a great opportunity to invite the domestic market to rediscover Dublin and that includes Dubliners. Dublin has become much a more cosmopolitan and interesting city over the past few years and there is plenty to do and discover. Whilst the US market won’t return until March of next year, we are reliant on the UK and the rest of Europe to begin travelling again to sustain our business so the sooner the idea of air corridors open the better it will be for Dublin.
“The Wilder Townhouse whilst both a business and leisure hotel is well known as a destination in itself for celebrations and special occasions with the domestic market and Dubliners alike.”
Dublin vs regional
Francis acknowledged that the most challenging piece at the moment is price.
“The coin has flipped and Dublin is currently better value than regional Ireland. For hotels to get their fair share of what business is coming into the city marketing plays a vital role, coupled with interesting and value-added packages. We are taking the strategy in promoting Dublin as a destination and partnering up with restaurants and attractions aligned with our brand.
“It is now our job to inspire our customers and encourage them to stay and experience our capital city. We have an expert team here at the Wilder who will tailor make each and every trip for our guests and provide a level of personalised service like never before.”
For people who are staycationing this year but may be used to going abroad for their holidays, Francis believes Ireland will emerge as something of a welcome surprise for its citizen holidaymakers.
“Absolutely, there is a reason why Ireland is a top destination for Europeans and the US, it is a beautiful country and the people of Ireland all play their part in that Cead Mile Failte, there simply is no other place like Ireland in Europe.
“Also Ireland has performed so well on a global scale during the pandemic, with everyone taking responsibility from the top down. By taking such responsibility and making sacrifices at an early stage, we have shown the world that we are a safe country to visit and enjoy.
“We are also lucky to have such a proactive organisation like Failte Ireland, who are investing a lot in their “Make a Break for it” campaign for the domestic market. When we can all freely travel again, let’s not regret the time we had to discover the country we live in.”
Francis believes the State will need to play a more fundamental role in helping the hospitality and tourism sector get back on its feet.
“The hospitality sector is a broad one and ranges from major visitor attractions to B&Bs. The industry spans both rural and urban markets and attracts international spend like no other sector and is worth over €7.6bn to the Irish economy.
“The Government needs to bolster hospitality enterprises at this time, to sustain jobs and keep businesses open – given that sales (due to travel restrictions) and costs (associated with new regulations) are turning traditional business models on their heads.
“The best help is immediate help – so the continuity of the Covid Staff Payment Scheme allows employers to retain highly skilled team members through this down time. A reduction in the VAT rate would alter under pressure profit and loss accounts perhaps back to profitability. This is vital as any external funding sought by businesses will require the prospect of a profitable business in order to secure loan approval and make repayments on same.
“Once this is over – strong marketing campaigns will be required internationally to secure our share of what will be a reduced travelling public for a few years to come,” Francis urged.
Pictured at top: Barry Francis, general manager, The Wilder, with John Farrelly, deputy manager
Written by John Kennedy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published: 21 July, 2020