STAFF in the Clayton Hotel on Lapps Quay are adjusting to offering hospitality in a very different way, as they welcome key workers involved in vital IT, construction, and healthcare projects as their only current guests.
Almost all hotels in Cork City are closed at the moment, but the Clayton remains open, operating at a loss with reduced capacity and staffing, in order to provide accommodation to people who need to travel to Cork at this time.
Speaking to The Echo, general manager Conor O’Toole said they were trying to give a little back.
“The decision to stay open came from the Dalata CEO Pat McCann,” Mr O’Toole said. “Every city we have hotels in, we decided to keep one open.
“There are three open in Dublin, but we have one open in Limerick, Galway, Manchester, Belfast, London, and Cork.”
The manager emphasised that the rooms were for key workers only.
Of the hotel’s 201 rooms, Mr O’Toole said less than 50 were currently in use and all guests were provided with room service for breakfast in order to ensure effective social distancing.
“We would normally have 80 to 90% occupancy as a rule for the year usually. At the moment I have about 40 rooms in-house. We are nowhere near breaking even.”
Mr O’Toole said there is a varied mix of people staying with them at the moment, including people working with the court service, those working on the tunnel, Irish rail, and support staff in hospital sectors such as technical, IT, building, and fabrication work.
The general manager, who has been at the helm of the hotel since it was taken over by Dalata in 2016 and rebranded the Clayton, said things are hard at the moment.
“The hardest thing for the team is, we are in the people industry, we are used to shaking hands and hugging, and we can’t do that now.”
The hotel is still offering dinner to their residents in the dining hall, which normally seats 170 people.
“Last night we had 58 for dinner across three hours, we are very fortunate to be able to feed people in-house and allow for social distancing.”
The hotel’s sales and marketing manager, Paul O’Connell, said the social distancing is difficult at times.
“We started seeing social distancing by the end of March and we were still out and about meeting clients, but not shaking hands or in close proximity.”
Mr O’Connell said that with the lockdown, it is all a little bit strange.
“We always go out with the ‘céad míle fáilte’, and now we are keeping our distance from people. Normally this lobby would be full of guests having teas or coffee and now it’s empty. It’s bizarre.”
Mr O’Connell said it all feels a bit awkward and in general people are a bit on edge.
“You are reminding yourself the whole time to keep your distance,” he said. Despite this, Mr O’Connell said they do see their guests chatting over dinner from a social distance, which is nice. He said that while they were not accepting members of the public at the moment, they were booking in stays from the end of May with a lot of calls coming in from people looking to book a break once the lockdown is relaxed.
“The phones are busy, we are getting a lot of calls from people booking stuff from the end of May.”
As well as offering rooms to travelling workers, Mr O’Connell said they are also renting one or two rooms to people as an office.
“People have a desk, a restroom, tea, coffee and good wifi, it is a good set up at the moment.”
While 22 of the 150 staff at the hotel are still working, Mr O’Toole said he is in communication with those at home through an app that is used by the company. “I have reached out to employees, on the app, keeping them informed on how things are going and Dalata have a third-party helpline, for anyone who needs mental health assistance at this time.”
As well as this there is online training that staff members can do while they are not working.
“Dalata has its own academy with everything from accounting to revenue management, customer complaint handling, food and beverage service,” Mr O’Toole said,
“But there is no onus on anyone to do training, it is just if they want to.”
Mr O’Toole said that looking ahead to the future, being innovative and creative will be key.
“We are very fortunate to be part of Dalata,” he said. “They are a big company and we have a lot of heads thinking about this.
“At the moment we are looking at Asia and China who are coming out of this a little bit and seeing what they do.”
Mr O’Toole said that the company was looking at bringing a new regulated sanitation standard across their hotels in order to offer reassurance to customers.
“We are thinking of bringing a standard, a sanitation standard and having it monitored in our hotels.
“So for example, Cork hotel has a gold standard, etc. It would have to be run by a third party — self-regulation is no regulation. So we are trying to marry up with someone at the moment.”
Mr O’Toole said that the hotel’s number-one priority at the moment was its staff. “We want them to know it’s OK to come back and that it is safe when we do reopen fully.”
The general manager said he was aware it would be a slow build.
“I don’t think the pool and bar will be opening for some time. The restaurant is OK, it is large enough to social distance but some things will need to change.”
Mr O’Toole said in a normal summer, the hotel would be packed with corporate bookings with leisure business at the weekends.
“Cancelled and postponed events is a big blow to us,” he said.
“We are the closest hotel to Live At The Marquee and Páirc Uí Chaoimh and for Musgrave Park gigs, a lot of the acts used to stay here.”
Despite this, Mr O’Toole said that most of the conference business that was cancelled has been rebooked for quarter four of this year or next year.
“This year is a bit of a pause, I think we will recover quicker than people are saying, from what we are seeing.”
When restrictions are slowly lifted, Mr O’Toole believes people will be looking at travelling around Ireland rather than going abroad.
“I think it will be slow,” he said. “I think the key will be to get things moving economically.”
The Clayton Hotel manager said they would be looking at marketing towards parents looking to get a much-needed break from their children after the lockdown and also hen weekends, golf trips, shopping trips, and things like that.
Mr O’Toole said they were lucky to be open and able to plan ahead. “We have a lot of heads working on this. It is about figuring out the market and selling to that. People are going to be very price-conscious when we come out of this, so it needs to be a value package as well, whatever shape that comes in.”