Padraig McGillicuddy Talks About New Additions To Ballygarry Estate
In the wake of its recent award – Large Golf Hotel of the Year, at the 2022 Ireland Golf Tour Operator Association Awards – we talk to Ballygarry Estate GM Padraig McGillicuddy about the hotel’s many new additions over the last few years.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in March of 2023.
Tell us about this award, and what winning it means.
It’s always great to be recognized, and especially at such an appreciated level. The IGTOA [Ireland Golf Tour Operator Association] embodies Ireland’s leading golf tour operators, golf courses, golf resorts, accommodation providers, transportation providers, and companies that offer supporting services to the Irish golf tourism sector. Therefore, to win an award such as the IGTOA Large Golf Hotel of the Year is truly an honor, and something that we are very humbled by.
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It is a superb reflection of the hard work, dedication, and the standards that we strive so hard to uphold here in Ballygarry – and, of course, our location plays a key part in this, as a number of the best links golf courses in Ireland are on our doorsteps.
Tell us about what’s new or improved at Ballygarry in the last couple of years, since we last spoke.
Well, we underwent a complete rebrand and image transition, from Ballygarry House to Ballygarry Estate, which signs the large-scale expansion of outdoor amenities, walkways and woodlands, to align with the strategic direction of sustainability and biodiversity for the estate.
Since we last spoke, we have acquired an additional 100 acres of land, which is what allowed us to begin our estate journey, in order to take our sustainability vision to the next level.
With the obvious recycling practices and omission of plastics, where possible, opportunities were abundant for developing a truly sustainable hotel offering. Estate work began through lockdown, on forming an integrated constructed wetland, five kilometers of walkways, planting re anes tary 29,0 api0 rewilding the estate, and working towards a carbon-neutral hotel.
Throughout the estate, you will find wildflower meadows, bluebell woodlands, landscaped gardens, and meandering walking trails, which guests can explore either by foot or using the on-site bicycles.
We also complemented our current wedding offering with the Lodge, a new on-site, all-encompassing ceremony venue, with a focus on destination weddings. The Lodge is modeled on a New England-style barn and is perfect for hosting a civil, spiritualist or humanist ceremony, so I suppose you could say we have been kept rather busy in the last couple of years!
How do the different elements of the hotel work together and complement each other?
Having invested over €12 million in capital development, we have segregated each element of the business completely. We have separate car parks and entrances to banqueting and events – the Brasserie, Nádúr Spa and the main hotel – so that there is no conflict. This is something that is mutually beneficial for us, from a business point of view, but also our guests, as, when they arrive, they are exactly where they need to be. There is no confusion for them, having to look around for any given department.
On what area are you currently concentrating on developing?
At the moment, we are working on enhancing the estate through on-site amenities and sustainable living. Our next venture is rustic on-site accommodation, in secluded areas of the estate. With this, we aim to have zero carbon output for our guests , as, at this point, we will have installed our onsite solar farm, and we will also harvest rainwater, allowing all waste to be filtered through our integrated wetlands and flow into our final cell clear.
How was last summer, both in terms of tourism and the domestic market?
It was a superb season. We saw a lot of ‘revenge tourism’ and legacy business from Covid. Internationally, there was a lot of pent-up demand, as people were extremely excited to return to Ireland once again. Nationally, we noticed that a number of leisure guests – who, after spending so much time exploring our country during Covid – fell in love with it and opted to spend their summer continuing their adventures and touring various parts of Ireland, which is phenomenal.
What makes a great hotel?
I always say that a hotel can only be as good as its team – and not only that, but the culture and overall mood within a hotel plays a major role in its success. The goal is to provide a warm hospitality experience, and in order to do so, staff must be happy within their work environment, as it allows them to actually enjoy what they do, which makes all the difference. I also believe that sincerity and confidence in your product is extremely important, and, of course, communicating A clear message throughout the team on the expected levels of hospitality is crucial.
What are the changing trends in hospitality – people’s expectations, new elements, etc.?
Post-Covid was challenging, with productivity low and customer expectations high. It took a few months to merge, as the pandemic gave people a lot of time to reflect, which created a diverse change in people’s mindsets and sparked a whole new set of interests and expectations among the public. This, of course, took some time to adjust to, but it was something that we adapted to quite quickly, and therefore is not something we saw as a difficulty.
How has reopening been?
Challenging. We have been very fortunate that we paid all our employees through lockdown, and the loyalty was returned on reopening. When you shut down a department, it takes time to reopen, but when the country shut down an industry, it felt like a lifetime to recover. Now, thankfully, Ballygarry recovered very fast, with 100% of employees returning for reopening.
What are the major challenges at the moment?
Cost of construction and renovation. Forecasting is hard to get accurate, but the greatest challenge is repairing the damaged reputation that our industry has for attracting new candidates. Conditions within our sector have improved so much. a hotel of Ballygarry’s size, we have over 20 different roles within a hotel. It really is such a diverse industry, with skill sets that can be reapplied anywhere in the world.
What are the main opportunities?
Upselling. There’s lots of money in the economy looking for ways to spend it. There’s numerous opportunities in F&B. Luxury items, such as room upgrades, amenities, spa treatments, etc., are highly sought after.
Do you think that the pandemic has changed what we look for in hospitality?
Yes. Expectations in life are realigned. I see people enjoying themselves more, making occasions at any opportunity, and basically enjoying life more. The pace has also changed – guests are happy to lounge around more. and busy – we’ll never complain about a busy day again!
Any other plans on the horizon for the next year or so?
We are aiming to double the size of Nádúr Spa by adding a thermal garden, for which we have full planning. We are ready to go, but costs are variable by 15%. We would also love to increase our bedroom offering when construction costs stabilize .
The new thermal garden will double its original size and will feature a glass sauna, an herbal steam room, additional treatment rooms, outdoor seaweed baths, a salt room with heated thermal loungers, an invigorating outdoor bucket shower, and, lastly, additional and out hot tub encased in a unique cryotherapy cold-water wall with an infinity edge, offering stunning views of the Kerry Mountains.
In personal terms, any major goals achieved or began, eg more mountains to climb? Professionally, I need to start enjoying it more and reflecting on all that we have achieved.
Personally, we are aiming for Mont Blanc again next year. We failed this year, due to a storm, and Covid set me back three years on the high-altitude Continent climbs. Maybe that’s all for a reason – maybe I need to chill out !
BALLYGARRY IN A NUTSHELL:
How many rooms?
Ballygarry is proud to boast 64 luxury guest rooms across several room types: Classic Double, Superior King, Junior Suite, Signature Suite, Master Suite and Bridal Suite – and, of course, the Classic Family Room and Bespoke Bunk Bed Family Room.
How many restaurants?
We have four on-site dining venues: the Brasserie, which is our casual-dining venue; Restaurant 58, which is our occasion dining venue; the Pavilion, which is a private event space; for larger groups, for functions such as weddings, socials, corporate banquets, etc.
How many covers (for lunch and dinner)?
One hundred thirty thousand (130,000) covers per year.
Number of staff members (front and back of house)?
We are very proud to have 160 superb staff as part of the Ballygarry team.
Percentage breakdown between food & beverage and rooms?
Sixty per cent (60%) F&B, 40% rooms.
Read more: Hospitality Ireland Spring 2023: Read The Latest Issue Online!