Galway hotelier believes the future is bright for local tourism

Paul and Nora Gill, owners of the Claregalway Hotel pictured with staff at the hotel.

Paul and Nora Gill, owners of the Claregalway Hotel pictured with staff at the hotel.

`Paul Gill, the managing director of the Claregalway Hotel believes that, with the right marketing approach, the Galway tourism industry has a very bright future ahead.

This confidence was a key factor for Paul and his wife Nora when they recently decided to purchase the 48 bedroom hotel property after it came on the market, at a cost of €1.5m, taking the business out of receivership. It followed nine years of running the hotel as an operator, during which time the hotel has developed a reputation for its commitment to quality and excellence.

Open all year round, the three-star hotel employs 81 members of staff and is situated in the centre of the thriving village of Claregalway, a 40 minute drive from popular tourist destinations like the Burren, Connemara, and Clonmacnoise.

With the food and beverage part of the business accounting for 70 per cent of the business’ revenues, the hotel is currently expanding its food product and gastro dining experience as part of a refurbishing plan which will include a €100,000 investment in extending its kitchen.

According to Mr Gill, an important focus for the hotel following the buyout is targeting international tours and growing European markets such as France, Germany, and Italy. He notes that with average stays of two to three nights, guests at the hotel are attracted to the west of Ireland by its scenic beauty, friendly people, and enormous range of cultural events and activities.

Along with the popular Tí Cusack’s Cafe Bar and Grill, the hotel has an impressive reputation for weddings and large social events, as well as providing a wide range of facilities for corporate meetings and functions. The hotel operates the Core Fitness Club, a top quality leisure facility with an 18-metre swimming pool, toddlers’ pool, Jacuzzi, gym, sauna, aerobics studio, spa suites, and seaweed baths.

“When people think of holidaying in Galway, the image should be of a fun and vibrant destination – blessed with a wealth of scenic attractions, steeped in history and culture and offering a warm and friendly welcome,” said Mr Gill, who is vice-president of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF ) and chair of its Galway branch. “The key challenge lies in getting our marketing message right and giving holidaymakers new and compelling reasons to visit Ireland.”

He notes that there is now increased optimism among local tourism businesses on foot of growing overseas visitor numbers and increased support from the Government. Figures produced by the Central Statistics Office last week showed an 8.1 per cent increase in overseas visitors between March and May this year with North America (up 12.6 per cent ), Europe (up 9.6 per cent ), and Britain (up 5.6 per cent ) doing particularly well.

Mr Gill says that a significant factor driving this is the competitive advantage the reduced tourism VAT rate of 9 per cent has provided Irish tourism when marketing Ireland abroad as a destination for holidaymakers and business travellers. He says however that: “Galway hoteliers would be concerned that the measure needs to be more than just a short term initiative if we are to achieve sustained growth, particularly for domestic and international tour operators which are a vital component of the hotels sector.”

Mr Gill says that given the sharp contraction in consumer spending so far in 2013, the reduced VAT rate also acts a vital support for the broader domestic market, which is by far the largest source of revenue for many rural hotels – accounting for almost three quarters of bednights in Galway and making the sector extremely sensitive to consumer demand at home.

Commenting on the performance of his own hotel, Mr Gill states that the Claregalway Hotel has achieved marginal increases in business levels each year for the last couple of years following a significant decline since its peak in 2007. He said The Gathering initiative has so far provided a necessary boost for his hotel and the Claregalway area, and that tourism across Galway is seeing an enormous boost with the initiative dove-tailing excellently with a busy calendar of local events throughout the year including the Galway Arts Festival, the Galway Sea Festival, and the upcoming Galway Races.

Mr Gill says that Galway hoteliers are looking forward to this year’s Galway Races and are seeing a significant pick-up in business and advance bookings compared with last year. He encourages those attending the event to book early to avoid disappointment given the increased interest.

“There’s great value across Galway this year with most hotels in the city offering very attractive packages to draw in the punters - including bed and breakfast, complimentary transfers to the race course, the best of live entertainment, and tickets to the races on each day,” he concluded.

Europe’s longest running racing festival gets underway on Monday 29th July with the Galway’s Best Hotel’ Race Day. The event will include the Radisson Blu, Galway Bay Hotel, Claregalway Hotel, Clayton Hotel, Galway Oyster Hotel, the Connacht Hotel, and the Pillo Hotel, coming together to sponsor the opening day of racing.

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