As Dromoland Castle’s restoration programme remains on target for a March 2019 finish, General Manager Mark Nolan talks to Maev Martin about aiming for the top of the golf tourism leaderboard, keeping pace with the demands of its five star clientele, and competing with recently renovated neighbours, Adare Manor and Ashford Castle.
One of the top luxury castle hotels in the world, Dromoland Castle revealed details of its renovation programme, valued at a20m, on May 22nd. The multi-award winning castle, situated in Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare, is one of the most celebrated baronial landmarks in Ireland. The investment programme has been planned to preserve and perfect this historical building and the 330 acres of surrounding land.
“Dromoland Castle is synonymous with providing an exclusive castle experience, combined with luxury five star surroundings, to both Irish and international guests,” says Mark. “To ensure the continued development and enhancement of the castle, the board of directors at Dromoland Castle committed to a four-year development plan, which is currently near completion. Working with the architects and conservationists, we sought to carefully integrate any new features with the original historic structures of the castle. Many of the public rooms, such as the Drawing Room or Lower Gallery, still look and feel as they would have done when Lord Inchiquin’s family lived here throughout the 1800s. This restoration programme combines all the modern luxuries expected of a five star property with the unique welcoming atmosphere and sense of history that a stay at Dromoland Castle offers our guests.”
Cementing Five Star Status
The extensive renovations will cement Dromoland Castle’s status within the ranks of the world’s finest five star hotels.They include a complete refurbishment and interior design upgrade of all castle bedrooms, new luxury en-suite bathrooms for each bedroom, an upgrade to all mechanical and electrical works, upgraded heating, the replacement of all piping and the construction of a new energy centre, specialised conservation stone facade repair works to the castle exterior and towers, improved sound insulation and double glazed windows to all bedrooms and public areas, extensive roof repairs, increased conservation standards to prevent deterioration, and a new castle courtyard and limestone steps at the main entrance of the castle.
There has been little or no disruption to the guest experience during the works to date. “We have continued to welcome visitors, providing the highest standard of service,” he says. “The restoration works have been taking place during winter periods, so we will start
again from November to March next year, and the
works will take place during the same period in 2019. We have completed all of the public areas and the
main castle rooms. We are currently working on the remaining rooms.”
Growing The Golf Market
The restoration programme involves wide ranging enhancements to Dromoland Golf and Country Club, including new pathways around the hotel’s 18-hole parkland course, the purchase of a fleet of new golf buggies, and a golf academy. “We held our first Pro-Am on the golf course recently and we feel that there is definitely potential in the North American market because our practice facilities here are so good,” he says. “We are targeting the early arrivals on the red eye flight into Shannon – that is a market we wouldn’t have targeted in the past because we always heard that Americans only wanted to play links golf. However, Carr Golf feel that we should go after the US market, so we are working with them to attract more golfers from overseas, whereas up to now it would have been more domestic club and society golf business.”
Positive Guest Feedback
The new furniture in Dromoland Castle was made by Robin O’Donnell in Skibbereen with Irish timber, while Tralee-based Quinn Casey and Co were the interior designers on the project. “The public areas were designed by myself in conjunction with Carol Roberts of No 12 Queen Street in Bath,” says Mark. “Our main contractors, Monami Construction, who are working increasingly on hotel projects, have been great throughout the entire programme of works. Based on customer feedback, air handling was a key area that had to be addressed, so we installed it in a very subtle way in the guestrooms. We have since been receiving very positive feedback about the air temperature and control being extremely comfortable throughout the hotel and in our new rooms.”
Volume & Occupancy
Dromoland Castle and Inn welcome over 100,000 residential guests to stay every year. Over 60% of residents come from outside Ireland. Dromoland Castle receives an annual occupancy rate averaging at 72% of all 98 rooms. From May to October room occupancy rates at the castle climb to 90%, consisting of mostly wealthy visitors from North America. “70% of our business in terms of volume is from North America and 62% in terms of occupancy,” says Mark. “Of that 62%, 65% are leisure travellers. We are hoping to hit a year round occupancy of somewhere around 70% this year and to run somewhere in the region of 90% plus between now and the end of October.” Will Dromoland Castle be hoping to improve on that following the completion of the renovations? “We will have a much stronger product in place by March 2019, so we would be happy with 72% to 73% occupancy at that point.”
The Personal Touch
Dromoland Castle offers an exceptional guest experience where, without leaving the grounds, guests can enjoy a horse and hound welcome, the 18-hole golf and country club, private boating in lake Dromoland, archery, clay shooting, falconry, dinner in the Earl of Thomond Restaurant, a private horse and carriage historical garden tour, afternoon tea, and the tranquillity of the Spa at Dromoland. The Castle also further contributes to local tourism by offering its guests private chauffeured trips to the Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty. Dromoland Castle and the Inn at Dromoland currently employs over 400 staff, with most of the workforce based in Co Clare. This figure is due to rise after the investment project, with the appointment of new positions, including additional doormen and gatemen. “We increased our staff numbers to ensure that we continue to offer a very personal service and we want to retain the character of our staff,” he says. “We recruit people with personality and we believe that it is important for our team members to retain their individuality – we can always give them the required skills for their role.This four-year investment programme is really about improving on what we have and what we are good at – a caring, personalised service. Our research tells us that this is what our customers want.”
Mark completed sales calls in the US recently and he reports that the level of enquiries for Ireland from the US are “incredibly strong.” However, there are issues with availability and access – getting rooms on the east coast is a challenge for a lot of operators, but Dromoland Castle has plans to help ease that situation. “We have a good reputation and reservations service, as well as good management structures and expertise, so a move into the Dublin hotel market, maybe a boutique 30-bed hotel, is something we would like to do,” he says. “One of the inhibitors now is the cost of construction and of property, so I don’t see anything happening in this regard in the short term, but it is an ambition of ours.”