The Radisson rocket

Stephen Hanley, general manager of the Radisson SAS Hotes & Resort, Galway. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Stephen Hanley, general manager of the Radisson SAS Hotes & Resort, Galway. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

In business, as in life, we have those who lead and those who follow.

The Radisson SAS Hotel Galway has always opted for the road less travelled, by introducing concepts and originating trends that are subsequently adopted by others.

Since its glitzy arrival in 2001, the hotel has aimed to give Galway a glossy magazine product that is accessible by all, local and visitor alike. A magnet for ‘movers and shakers’, the hotel has hosted more than its fair share of celebrities – everyone from Irish Presidents and politicians to international rock stars and actors, and has collected a top drawer full of awards along the way.

One Radisson SAS hotel a week opens worldwide

The international group ‘Rezidor’ operates the Radisson SAS Hotels & Resorts brand, managing more than 320 hotels in 50 countries, and opening on average one hotel per week worldwide.

The original SAS hotel opened in Copenhagen in 1960, becoming the first designer hotel in the world, and creating a brand that is now instantly recognisable worldwide. Despite the consistency of the international branding, each Radisson is owned independently and operates autonomously.

Four-star Radisson SAS hotels proliferate across Ireland, covering Belfast, Limavaddy, Letterkenny, Sligo, Cavan, Athlone, Dublin, Cork and Limerick.

One new Radisson hotel opens every seven days

The Rezidor group’s complementary three-star hotels, the Park Inns, are to be found in Dundalk, Shannon, and Dublin, with one opening shortly in Belfast.

Taking over the Galway reins in 2008 is general manager Stephen Hanley, a Cork/Kerry/Midlands/Clare man who intends to stamp his ID in Galway.

“I’m a bit of a hybrid, having been born in Cork, reared in Kerry, educated in the Midlands and trained in Clare, but I see this as enjoying the best of all worlds. Furthermore, I’m guaranteed to always end up at an All-Ireland Final,” he jokes.

An avid Kerry football supporter, he was drafted straight into Tralee’s ‘Austin Stacks GAA Club’ as a youngster, before heading for Clare and an indoctrination into hurling.

With the maternal family grocery shop, Healy’s still going strong in Killarney, Stephen’s parents have ensured that their travelling son will always have roots in the South-West.

Renowned for their astute business savvy, Stephen’s father Arthur, a retired bank manager with the AIB, had the foresight to buy land in Killarney, guaranteeing a retirement bolthole, before he began his peripatetic lifestyle, moving his family between county bank branches, and teaching Stephen the skill of living out of a suitcase.

Graduating from The Shannon School of Hotel Management, Stephen worked with a number of high profile hotels at home and abroad, but his first taste of the Radisson SAS Hotel group came with his appointment as GM in Limerick, where he worked for three years.

“The midwest region is beautiful, offering a huge variety of attractions, from the Burren to Bunratty. It’s such a pity that Aer Lingus pulled the Shannon-Heathrow route, as it is impacting unfairly on this region, and the ‘open skies’ arrangement, which does not require flights to stop in Shannon, has added to this malaise.”

Simple school economics tells us that when supply exceeds demand, price falls, and government capital allowances have produced a huge supply of new hotels in Ireland.

To compound this, the American market, which never fully recovered from ‘9/11’, is down again, due to increased fuel prices, the election year, and a credit crunch.

Hotels have to prepare for new economic circumstances

So, how does the Radisson group intend to address our new economic circumstances?

“All hotels are suffering from vastly increased costs, which cannot be fully passed onto the customer. The Galway Radisson has seen its fuel costs increase by €250,000 over the past year. Seventy per cent of our August market would traditionally be home-based, but people are holding back from booking until the last minute, which makes projections very difficult.”

We’re working smarter to keep our costs down and standards up

“What I have tried to do since my arrival this year is to work smarter, rather than harder, by streamlining some operations and re-arranging our cost bases. Therefore, we can guarantee the customer the Radisson standard, but at a lower cost to ourselves.”

The hotel’s lunch strategy has recently been streamlined, with Stephen taking the theme of ‘Le Marché’ from his hotel experience in Switzerland. The buffet lunch now operates from within the restaurant, and offers a fresh, global menu, matched with rapid, hands-on service.

The buffet menu changes daily, and capitalises on the multi-national chef expertise available to the Radisson, by supplementing local sandwiches, salads, stews and carvery with meals from India, Mexico and Italy, and customers can eat as much or as little as they prefer.

“Research shows that business people have 38 minutes for lunch, and we guarantee that everyone will be comfortably fed with the best of food and at very competitive prices within this time frame.

“We’re revising what Le Marché has to offer every day and I can guarantee that by September, this will be the best lunch venue in Galway.”

Further development is taking place throughout the hotel, and a public area re-vamp is already under way to complement the very glamorous Veranda Bar. At the end of the summer season, work will begin on the refurbishment of 240 of the hotel’s 288 bedrooms.

‘We cater for 100,000 visitors per year in Galway’

“This Radisson has always enjoyed very high occupancy rates – around 100,000 visitors per year - which means very heavy usage, so extra attention needs to be paid to high maintenance.”

While some hotels focus on certain key target markets, the Radisson SAS Galway is open to every market, including airline, tour, conference, corporate, leisure, destination, and weekend.

“The Radisson Hotel group is such a dynamic organisation, and I wear the ‘Yes I Can’ staff badge with pride – and encourage all personnel to do likewise.

“The group adopted a ‘Responsible Business’ strategy early on, and has pledged to deal with environmental issues in as eco-friendly manner as possible.

“The Galway Radisson is considered a flagship hotel, and opportunities abound for staff who are ambitious. Standardisation of training allows for staff to move seamlessly between hotels worldwide, so we’ve always enjoyed an international workforce, each of whom brings something of their own culture to bear.”

Good hotel keeping, insists Stephen, is at the core of the RSAS success. “Quality product and uncompromising service can see a good hotel through the thick and thin of economic fluctuation, and that’s what our 280 staff are here to do.

“We also enjoy a fantastic wealth of knowledge from Brussels HQ and support from the Galway hotel owners, Bernard McNamara and Jerry O’Reilly.”

“We’re one of the few Irish hotels to have a full-time in-house training manager, Martin Beirne, so we’re on top of every new legislative development. All our managers are ‘true blue hoteliers’ who are self-starters, dynamic, and actively empower the staff under them to progress within the RSAS group.

“We also have a ‘Mentor/Mentee’ programme within the group, and I’m one of two mentors in Ireland charged with the responsibility of developing senior management into general manager roles.”

It’s difficult these days to find a hotel that does not lay claim to a spa, but once again, the Radisson SAS Galway hotel not only originated the concept in Galway, but also pushed out the boundaries.

Internationally acclaimed Elemis, Ytsara, and Ole Henriksen products enable spa specialists to continuously turn out a service that has won the ‘Spirit One Spa’ many prestigious awards over the years.

“Repeat business is high, and our spa has become a destination in itself, in that many leisure guests cite ‘Spirit One Spa’ as being a major influencing factor in staying here.”

A function area capable of hosting up to 1,000 guests has made the hotel a serious contender in the conference market. Its Inis Mór ballroom is heavily occupied during the conference season and charity balls and celebrations add to this demand.

“Radisson business is everyone’s business. When we’re full, all the other hotels, pubs, restaurants and shops do well too. Sometimes people forget about the ‘ripple-effect’ that one successful business can generate for others.”

Future plans for Galway’s Radisson are skyrocketing

“Our corporate and leisure sectors account for roughly 50 per cent each, and we now plan to market our wedding product more assertively.”

Plans are afoot to transform the hotel’s former nightclub, which has been lying vacant, into a major venue for conferences and weddings.

“We plan to develop a magical setting for intimate and social affairs, offering Galway something completely new and innovative.”

Future developments include a Medi-Spa, hair and beauty salon and refurbishment of guest rooms

More immediate changes will include the introduction of a hair and beauty salon, and a ‘Medi-Spa’ that will cater for certain types of non-invasive surgical features.

“It’s important that the hotel is seen as a ‘destination’ hotel, where one can avail of every service without leaving the premises.”

The hotel’s summer barbecues are already very buoyant, and Race Week is just around the corner at which visitors can enjoy 10 bars, including champagne, wine, and cocktail, and a full menu of nightly entertainment.

Whilst most large companies adopt some form of corporate responsibility, Stephen actively embraces it.

“We’re currently committing over €100,000 per year sponsoring a number of organisations, from the arts to sport, and I intend to include some of the smaller community-based organisations; perhaps the less fashionable ones.”

Working in a high-octane environment takes its toll, and Stephen’s escape, when possible, is to get back to the wilds of Kerry around Inch beach and Valentia Island.

He also golfs and tries never to miss GAA matches and Munster rugby. “I love the big spectacles and have been to many, including La Tour de France, The British Open and Wimbledon.

“Next on my agenda is the Masters Tournament in Augusta, and fortunately the round the world yacht race is coming to us next year, so Galway will be ‘the’ place to be, and I look forward to globally showcasing this hotel.”

It would appear that the sky really is the limit, and we can expect a galaxy of new features under its latest general manager. Twelve hour days are not unusual, but although reaching for the stars, Stephen is focusing entirely on getting his aircraft ready for lift-off.

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