Room to improve
Declan Rooney talks to Claregalway Hotel Managing Director Paul Gill about the future of the hotel industry in Ireland as he comes to the end of his term as Galway Chairman of the Irish Hotels Federation
As one of the founders of the Claregalway Hotel in 2004 and in his role as Galway Chairman of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) over the past four years, Paul Gill has seen the hospitality sector change dramatically over the years.
In the early days, business in the hotel industry was buoyed up on the Celtic Tiger tide, but things have dramatically changed in recent years, with hoteliers now focused on keeping their doors open.
“When I first took the chairperson [role], the first thing that happened was the first cut in tourism spending from the Government arrived. Then the fall-off in American tourist numbers began. Domestic tourism began to retreat also, so it has been an interesting four years,” he says.
Mr Gill says that after the global recession brought the tourism market to a shuddering halt, the oversupply of hotel rooms in Ireland because blatantly obvious.
“The gap between supply and demand started to become evident; the oversupply of hotel rooms in the Irish market versus that actual demand for rooms became obvious. Previously there had been a surge in demand for hotel rooms because of the inflation of the Irish market, but the reality is that nationwide we probably still have too many rooms,” he says.
However, on a positive note for the local market, Mr Gill feels that “Galway is slightly different”.
“When you look at the number of old hotels and guest rooms that have closed in Galway over the last few years, the total number of beds is not all that different now than it was 20 years ago. We probably have about 500 more rooms now. Galway seems to have a natural demand,” he says.
With the cessation of his role as local IHF chairman, Mr Gill’s focus will be immediately drawn back to his own hotel and he already has a number of projects in mind to keep his business to the fore.
One might expect that the new N17 motorway to Tuam, which will bypass Claregalway, would be a devastating blow to the hotel, but the ever-positive Mr Gill sees it as a huge opportunity for the village.
“The new road is a brilliant opportunity for the hotel and the village to develop; it will be brilliant for the village. We are very active in the tidy towns and, with the constant throughput of traffic, it can be very difficult for us to improve ourselves.
“But down the line there will be a real opportunity to expand into the tourism market, as we have one of the greatest natural resources – The Clare River – right on our doorstep. It is one of the best-populated rivers for brown trout and pike on the western seaboard and we still have to exploit that to its maximum yet.
“Claregalway Castle is coming on line and we also have the Abbey. There is now a massive opportunity for Claregalway to reach out into a market that we were never able to before. We won’t pick up as much off-the-road traffic, but that will hand us a great opportunity to look at other markets. Every change gives an opportunity; it can only be positive as the life is being choked out of the village at the moment.”
And the ‘village’ ethos is central to Mr Gill’s core beliefs for his business. Of his 62 full- and part-time staff, 35 of them are from the village of Claregalway. “Each one of them are our biggest asset, they are out brochure,” he says.
With the hectic Christmas period and a “surprisingly busy” knock-on from the Heineken Cup on the way, it promises to be a work-filled few months for Mr Gill, but he is delighted to see the region beginning to thrive once more.
“The confidence in Galway at the moment is huge. We have come through a great couple of months where all the news has been about job creation with only a few negatives. Even looking back to the time Digital left, we always seem to bounce back quickly. We seem to have a natural ability to take the punch.
“And with festivals like the Volvo Ocean Race…even that blew us away the last time. But this time we have to make our welcome ten per cent better, we want to ensure the race comes back to Galway in three years time. We need to make the most out of each opportunity.”