The top international hotelier, Irishman Brendan Dwyer, was on holidays last February in the Maldives when the pandemic began in China. "We noticed they were taking temperatures at Mali airport on the way home, so it was about to kick off. A week later the big news was coming in from China. And two weeks later the EU were saying we have a problem and a week later it was game over and we had to shut up shop.”
Brendan Dwyer is the GM of the La Finca Resort in Alicante, Spain. He has worked for more than 20 years in some of the world’s most iconic hotels and was vice president of global sales for Hyatt Hotels.
Speaking on the Travel Tales with Fergal podcast, Dwyer really captures the manic world of the global hotel business as he gives an energetic, charismatic, tour of working all over the world including London, New York, Cairo, Istanbul, Madrid, and Murcia.
In Ireland all the talk is about not being able to go abroad, but people forget about the expats that are not able to come back to Ireland. Dwyer talks about having to close his hotel last March and how difficult it is not getting back to Ireland to visit family and friends in Clare and Kerry.
“Not being home in Ireland for a year is very weird. First of all, not being able to see my dad. Not to come in off that Ryanair flight, say hello to the guard looking at your passport in customs. See the smile. I normally fly into Kerry airport because my dad is living in Killarney for eight years now.
“I miss Ireland a lot because for me it was great to go home to see people and great grounding. I miss the country, people, the food, and the craic. I miss sitting at the bar and having a pint, being honest.”
When asked where he will travel to first when things open, Dwyer said: “For me it will be a trip to Ennis to see friends and Killarney to see my dad. It is the longest time I have ever been away from Ireland.
“We shut up the hotel on March 17, St Patrick's Day, which was a bit bizarre for me. It is very eerie to go there now and see a beautiful five star hotel closed. And sad to see 120 workers and families without work. I went to Alicante airport twice and it is the most eerie place. The airport is a travel hub and the fourth biggest in Europe, and it is dead. There is no one there now. I miss the freedom of travel.
“We actually had the Wuhan football team staying with us when we closed. Rafa Benitez is their manager. They were tested on a daily basis and we were given assurances by Spanish and Chinese doctors. It was quite bizarre having them at the height of the pandemic. Rafa said they were happy to be able to avoid what was going on in China. He said Wuhan had become a prison.”
The top international hotelier says that “this is a very harsh and short term strategy by the Irish Government when looking at tourism” when compared to the attitude in Spain.
“The airline industry is crumbling. The airlines are clamouring for support for a reason. They are dying. The travel sector in Ireland and the UK is the forgotten industry. But this problem is short term. I understand as an island you need to protect your borders, but the travel industry has been forgotten about in Ireland.
“Why can’t you look to the summer like the Spanish do? Why shouldn’t the Irish be allowed to travel in July or August? You have been locked down for practically a year. It is not positive for your country, for your mental health, and not positive for your economy.
“The Spanish Government has listened to the cries for help over the last year from our industry. Spain is so dominant in the tourism industry but also so reliant on it. The Spanish economy can’t survive unless we go for it and it is deemed to be safe enough for that to happen in July.
“The lockdown restrictions have started to be removed in the last few days. Bar and restaurants can open again. There is a curfew from 10pm to 6am and 11pm in Madrid. So, there is slight relief in the country, but there is strong optimism in Spain. Everything revolves around tourism because Spain is so reliant on tourism.
“My two cents worth is that, wherever you are and whatever you are doing, and we are talking about travel, then enjoy it. This thing called mindfulness works. Give yourself 10 minutes on your own. Take time out and clean the mind and fill it with positive thoughts for the future. That is what travel gives. If you don’t travel, then you don’t see these things. That is what I always do, and I try to make the most of every moment when I’m away."
Brendan Dwyer has been living in Cartagena in Murcia since 2015. “Murcia is Spain´s best secret with great places to visit like Cartagena, Murcia city, Caravaca de la Cruz, the vineyards of Jumilla, and the coast is dotted with long sandy beaches in La Manga. Murica is easily accessible by flying into Murcia or Alicante airport.”
Fergal O’Keeffe is the host of Ireland’s no 1 travel podcast Travel Tales with Fergal which is a weekly interview series listened to in more than 50 countries. It is available on all podcast platforms. The website is https://shows.acast.com/travel-tales-with-fergal.