These are unprecedented times for the hospitality sector, as Absolute Hotel GM Donnacha Hurley can attest to
It is well documented that the market that hotels are looking to at the moment is completely changed. How has the Absolute Hotel reacted to this?
We did not re-open until July 23. What we were waiting for was a bit of demand. I did not want to open up just because everyone else was opening up. I wanted to make sure it was right for our business. One of the first things we did is we saw food delivery services were doing well, so we introduced a ‘burgers and beyond’ service. That did well. It wasn’t just about the revenue, it was also about being able to have a team on site every day. Sometimes, it’s important to have a routine, and it’s very demoralising to come in and have nothing to do. So that activity provided a focus. You had to prepare and do a service and you had to manage a service.
How have you changed your offering to hotel guests?
In terms of rooms, we’ve had to really focus on Irish domestic leisure. We have a local school, Gaelcholaiste Luimnigh using our meeting rooms, because there are no corporate meetings taking place at the moment. They are in there every day using the rooms as classrooms.
How about third level students?
Along that line, we are also aware people are coming to university and are looking for places to stay. Traditionally, accommodation is really expensive. So if you can manage it that you can come down for a couple of days, and stay with us, and manage it at a much lesser cost, that is another area. You’re always looking for the opportunities and where they exist. What we are providing is that we will take away all the hassle for mam and dad, so they don’t have to put in the big downpayment. People can come down and stay here for their three or four days. We are really accessible along the beautiful tow-path to get out to the University of Limerick. We also have the local art college and Mary Immaculate College close by. We are on the edge of the city, so it’s very accessible to everywhere. The idea is a parent can be confident their precious child is being really well looked after and they can actually manage their finances as well.
What services do you offer to students?
It’s a bed-and-breakfast option, and obviously they will be able to access food in the evening as well. Around us, there are some fabulous offerings like the Locke Bar, which has a big outdoor seating area. The idea is people will come here, be able to dine here, and now the restrictions have changed, sit down and have a drink.
What is the rate for students?
It’s a really good rate that works out much better for a student than renting full time in Limerick. We had to keep that in mind when setting the price. We have quite a few students staying here with us over the next semester. If there were two people from a family, or a pod, they could share. We’ve had a number of inquiries. While it won’t fundamentally fill us, it is adding another string to our bow of business we can get in and look after. Our job is to identify and fulfil demand.
In terms of the leisure market, what are you offering?
We are offering three nights bed and breakfast and three evening meals from a total price of €299. This offer includes complimentary on-site car parking, and in your room, a Nespresso machine and free bottled water. You'd dine in our award-winning river-facing restaurant, where you'd enjoy a two-course meal, as well as a full Irish breakfast each morning.
How does it feel to be back open to the public after the Covid-19 lockdown?
It’s absolutely brilliant, phenomenal. At a core, our function is to operate a hotel and look after guests. To generate revenue, but to look after people and be a business. But it is soul destroying when you are coming into nothing. To open again, to have guests again was amazing. It meant we could get back to our old routine. While we are nowhere near the level of business we were at, the routine of coming into work, wearing your suit, and looking after people for breakfast, lunch and dinner is still there. Just at a much smaller scale. It was beautiful to have guests back again. When you’re closed, it’s hard to see where the future is going. When you’re open, at least you’re fighting for something.
Are you looking forward to welcoming your regular customers back?
Anything that makes it more accessible for people to get out and enjoy our services is really good for me. People who may not want to come out for a full meal will be able to go out for a walk along the river and come in here for a drink. We have people who come in for a pint, or a glass of wine. At least from now, as long as we stay at level two, people will be able do this. People have gone through a very tough time and they want to get back to their old lifestyles as much as possible, as much as the regulations will allow.
You’ve had to think outside the box in the last few months…
Innovation has always been spoken about in hotels, but often people haven’t practiced it because they haven’t needed to. Necessity is the mother of all invention and if your traditional markets and traditional activities are not generating income, then you have to innovate really quickly, and you must think of new ways of survival – otherwise you do not survive.
What has been the biggest challenge throughout this period?
Without a doubt, this is the biggest challenge of my career. Trying to lead and guide the business and the team during such severe uncertainty, and trying to provide that guidance where often there is none. It’s been a big challenge. You generally look to your previous experience and apply it. But you cannot this time. What it comes down to is making the best decision at the time with the information you have to hand. The most critical is then being willing to change that decision when you get new information.
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
To keep as many of our team with me, and to be a positive influence on our team and guests. If I manage to do that, we will have been a success. A lot of businesses are going to close and people will be impacted at what’s going on in the world. If I can provide stability and provide a place where people can come and just relax, then that’s great.