Moving from New York, we intended to open a nursing home - but our love of hospitality led to a hotel instead
Published 11/08/2016 | 02:30
Husband and wife Dean Gibson and Kathy McCallion gave up the bright lights of the Big Apple after 16 years to set up a hotel in Connemara. Dean told their story.
"Cathy and I met in New York, on a blind date set up by her sister in 1991. She worked her way through nursing school there while I worked in construction, eventually setting up my own company.
One of the things we have always had in common is our love for food and hospitality. In New York we were spoiled for wonderful restaurants and hotels and both became foodies.
I even completed some training at the French Culinary Institute in New York, qualifying as a chef in pursuit of my love of food.
Not long before we had our first child, we decided we wanted to move to Ireland. I'm from Yorkshire and Kathy is from Ballyconneely in Galway.
We decided that's where we wanted to start family life somewhere nearby. Making the move, we had no real plan in terms of work - though lots of ideas. Then six months after the recession hit and the economy went down the drain, to the point where we started thinking about moving back to New York again.
But we had bought land in Mayo and I had already started two building projects so we stuck to our guns.
We slowly got acclimatised and over the next few years added three more kids to our brood.
Five years in the entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and we were ready to take on a new project. Given Kathy's background in nursing, we developed plans for a nursing home.
The Mannim Bay Hotel in Ballyconneely came on the market and we bought it in 2013 with a nursing home in mind.
The hotel came with ten holiday homes. While waiting for our planning application to be processed, we decided to operate them for the summer of 2014 - and found we loved it.
The economy was beginning to turn around and Irish people had discovered a new-found love for staycations. Visitors adored the area, which is right by the sea and physically stunning.
That coupled with our passion for food and hospitality made it clear we should open a hotel rather than a nursing home.
The Connemara Sands Hotel and Spa opened last April. It has 23 rooms alongside the ten holiday homes. We offer what I call comfortable luxury - a relaxed, warm environment with all the trimmings.
It's been a steep learning curve - exhausting and all-consuming. But we are embracing it and throwing everything into it to make it sustainable.
The biggest challenge so far has been the seasonality of this business.
To address that we have added a spa and are chasing the wedding and corporate event market as well as ensuring our food is top-notch to entice domestic tourists and local visitors."