“In hotel-keeping, there is no one-man show or one woman show”, explains Niamh O’Shea, General Manager of the five star Killarney Park Hotel and a key part of the team priding themselves on delivering ‘Warmth Beyond the Smile’. Over a fireside cup of tea in the hotel’s luxe Drawing Room, I chatted with Niamh and Operations Manager Marcus Treacy, hoping to discover the secret behind this Kerry gem’s success over the years.
Recently named Ireland’s Top Luxury Hotel at the Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards 2017, it is clear that the oft-cited adage that there is ‘no I in team’ is the key to setting the hotel apart from what Niamh describes as ‘a red sea of competition’ in the Irish hospitality market. Of this fantastic achievement, Marcus notes that all thanks is due to his team, who he calls “the cornerstone of the ‘Warmth Beyond the Smile’ ethos”, adding that “all reviewers arrive as guests but leave as friends.”
There are more hotel beds in Killarney than any other town or city outside of the capital, meaning for The Killarney Park Hotel even local competition is fierce for a family owned hotel. However, it would appear to be the family dimension of KPH that is responsible for propelling it to the upper echelons of Irish hospitality.
Marcus, son of owners Padraig and Janet Treacy, was schooled in all-American hospitality in Manhattan’s most prestigious address – The Waldorf Astoria, which will close its doors for good this month. They say everyone knows everyone in Kerry, and in this case it was Waldorf Astoria Hotel Manager Diarmuid Dwyer, another Killarney man, who had his very first job in the Killarney Park Hotel offering Marcus the opportunity to kick start his career.
There’s nothing that compares to it in Ireland; 1400 bedrooms, turning almost a billionaire dollars a year in revenue, like New York itself, The Waldorf is an animal of a place. It was an experience that will stand to me for the rest of my career.
But long before walking those hallowed halls, Marcus learned the ropes from the bottom up between the Killarney Park and it’s sister hotel The Ross. Far from securing special treatment as the owners’ son, Niamh laughs heartily telling me “if anything it was the opposite! There was nearly more favouritism given to those Padraig wasn’t related to, he was adamant that there was no sense of ownership – good parenting and makes Marcus the person he is now.” “I certainly feel I put down my tenure – I like to think that I’ve earned my keep so far anyway!” Marcus smiles.
Adding to his impressive CV, Marcus returned from New York to take up the position of Director of Food and Beverage at the Waldorf’s Irish counterpart, The Shelbourne. While we all know The Shelbourne as the Grand Dame of Dublin hotels, it is safe to say the Killarney Park Hotel has the same iconic status in its own stunning neck of the woods, but Marcus feels that KPH’s particular brand of hospitality is very unique to the team there.
Marcus truly believes “the building is only a building without the people in it” and the team at KPH has evolved over the years, but familiar faces are a common theme both with repeat customers and long-standing members of staff. Niamh herself came on board two decades ago, moving up through various roles and cites the decision to stay as a testament to the Treacy family as employers creating such a welcoming environment for staff as well as guests. “There is a long standing team and we are very conscious that this is what feeds in to the loyalty we get from the customer”, says Niamh.
“For the guests coming back to be able to see that longevity of service – Beatrice in the restaurant will remember that you like to have low fat milk, James and Noreen in the bar will remember something else – you can’t buy that,” says Marcus, with Niamh adding that “as much as technology is coming into our industry, it is still the people that make the connection. They love seeing the familiar face.”
“Exceptional customer care, the whole team engaging more and more, every guest needs to leave thinking “there’s a family feel there, I’m going to come back”, says Niamh of the continual investment in the KPH team being a priority as an independently owned luxury hotel.
“It is much harder for a hotel competing with us to recreate the culture we have here, whereas writing a cheque is very do-able”
Making genuine investment in nurturing the people working at the Killarney Park Hotel, it seems, is key to achieving the unique selling point of Warmth Beyond the Smile.
In this vein, and as US golf tourism accounts for a massive amount of KPH’s visitors each year, the hotel has recently created the role of Guest Relations Manager, not unlike the concierge you might find in high end American properties. Of the Guest Relations Manager, a popular Killarney man recently inducted as a Les Clefs D’Or Ireland Member, Niamh says “the icing on the cake is his name is Padraig Casey but he prefers ‘PC ‘and that doubles as Personal Concierge – which is exactly what he is to guests!” “Everything we’re doing is about guest engagement, developing guest loyalty and delivering that personal touch”, adds Marcus.
This dedication to hospitality without borders has secured the Killarney Park Hotel’s place on the exclusive Leading Hotels of the World list, one of only six in Ireland. Alongside names like The Shelbourne and The Merrion, having this distinction puts KPH on the map internationally and gives them the mark of luxury in the global hospitality market. Retaining this distinction I ponder, is not unlike maintaining a Michelin Star.
Marcus explains how the inspection system for Leading works and it is clear there is far more to it than polishing a plaque. “Usually the inspectors check-in as mystery guests, avail of all the amenities and the report will consider things down to how warmly did the waiter speak to me at breakfast, how many times did the phone ring when I called for room service – it is that detailed. Everything is analysed”, he tells me.
That said, this level of scrutiny is far from mechanical and places huge emphasis on one element – the personal touch. This, affirms Niamh, is exactly why Leading is the perfect fit for KPH, explaining that “the people around you must have emotional intelligence and empathy, no system will make up for that. Leading acknowledges that – it isn’t all about tick the box and make the standard – it is moving on to the eye contact, the smile, which is really what we are all about.”
It seems the Killarney Park Hotel, as Ireland’s number one in luxury and a Leading Hotel of the World, is so much more than opulence and grandeur. Speaking to Niamh and Marcus, I can see that hotel-keeping is an art which enthuses them both, constantly striving to create the most wonderful experience possible for each and every guest. Every member of the valued team lives by the advice that the guest won’t remember what you said, but rather how you made them feel. Roaring fireplaces and smiling faces – the Killarney Park Hotel’s warmth is unparalleled.
To read TheTaste review of The Killarney Park Hotel click here.
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake Off and am passionate about discovering and creating delicious things – I can sometimes be caught in the act on TV3’s Six O’Clock Show. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.