‘New normal’ presents fresh challenge for top Limerick hotel’s boss

Nick Rabbitts

Reporter:

Nick Rabbitts

Email:

nick.rabbitts@limerickleader.ie

‘New normal’ presents fresh challenge for top Limerick hotel’s boss

Stephen O’Connor, the general manager of the Strand Hotel

In your own words, tell us a little about the Limerick Strand Hotel.

The Strand Hotel is an award-winning 184 bedroom hotel located in the heart of Limerick city. We are open to the River Shannon.

This location has been the home for three hotels in the past which have been associated with the hospitality industry.

The Strand Hotel is in business for more than 13 years. We’ve a bird’s eye view of every landmark in the city, and we are the ideal venue for business and leisure tourists. We have six floors, a large leisure centre with a 20 metre pool, a hydrotherapy pool, as well as a large conference and banqueting space which hopefully will be used more and more as we progress.

You re-opened after the Covid-19 lockdown on July 3. What’s it been like since?

Do you know what, it’s great. We are in the business of hospitality. I think we’ve all missed the buzz of the hotel and being able to welcome our guests every day. It was difficult to be closed, but we used the time constructively to prepare for our re-opening., We spent a lot of  time training in anticipation for our re-opening, preparing the hotel to be safe and welcoming.

We’ve just finished a safety charter for hospitality, and seven of our team during close down gained QI level five accreditation from the Limerick-Clare Education and Training Board in infectious disease control. It’s obviously a very relevant course for the time we are in.

How have things changed for you since re-opening?

Everything is back open in the hotel. We have two metre social distancing in place in our bar and restaurant. We have had to implement a booking system in our bars, restaurants and leisure centre.

Obviously, we have enhanced cleaning protocols, plus sprays and disinfectants for customers to wash their hands. We have signage in place, and all of this is in line with government guidelines.

Our food ethos is still the same. We are focused on local producers, high quality ingredients, cooked by a real talented bunch of people led by
Tom Flavin.

What’s been the reaction like from customers since you did re-open?

Customers seem reassured by the Covid-19 prevention measures. As we have so much space in our hotel, we have been able to maintain a two-metre distance between our tables in our bar and restaurant. In fairness, customers do seem more happy and relaxed. I’d say they have been very accommodating and understanding about the new way of operating. It’s different, but it’s been heartening to see the way our customers have reacted to the new normal. At the end of the day, our customer safety and employee safety is our number one priority at the moment.

What’s been your biggest challenge since the resumption of trade?

It is a very different way of operating for every hotel, not just the Limerick Strand Hotel. But my team has reacted really positively. Our customers have been very understanding of it. We’ve done a huge amount of trading in the new way of operating, and with social distancing, there is a lot of space between people, between our tables, that they have felt reassured.

There has been changes, but what has not changed is the same great product we have here, the same great service that we’ve always been renowned for.

What are your goals for the next 12 months?

The next while is all about survival. Our sources of business have changed dramatically. The international market is usually our largest market for business in the summer months. That hasn’t started yet. But on the positive, we have had a strong response from the domestic market, which is up on previous years. The outlook is uncertain, but we’re looking forward with positivity. At the moment, we are just hoping that domestic travellers are wearing their green jersey and are supporting local by going on a staycation.

In business and life, is there anyone you admire?

At the moment, I admire anyone in business. It’s been such a difficult time for everybody. It’s like a light-switch was turned off in March and a lot of businesses had to close overnight through no fault of their own. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and I just hope as many of them can survive and ultimately maybe next year, prosper.