Monday 12 November 2018

Ergo: Sheen Falls to check in for €10m-plus upgrade

Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

It's five years since a consortium led by British hotelier Nigel Chapman picked up Sheen Falls Lodge, the five-star hotel in Kenmare.

He told me that the hotel, pictured, was "on its knees" when they bought it but that it has enjoyed growth year-on-year, helped in part by what he called a "gentle" refurbishment, which included the addition of a couple of suites.

But some less gentle work is on the way. Chapman said that he has been working on expansion plans for the hotel for some time and expects to submit them for approval shortly.

The plans will grow the 68-room premises in to a 100-bedroom hotel, while a second restaurant will be added. There are also plans to upgrade the leisure facilities. Chapman said that the investment would be between €10m and €20m.

The decision to go ahead with the investment follows a strong 2017 which came in above budget targets and delivered revenues and profits at their highest level since 2007. Total revenue was up by 9pc on 2016, driven in part by higher room rates. Chapman said that the room rates were based on demand, as well as improvements at the premises.

When he and his backers bought the hotel, American visitors accounted for 20pc of guests. That proportion has now risen to 40pc and they come during the peak season, when rates are at their highest.

Despite the snow in March, the first quarter of this year was good. "We expect 2018 to be measurably better than 2017," he said.

Chapman is married to an Irish woman and spent a year living in Youghal, Cork. He actually credits visits to Ballymaloe in the 1970s as the inspirations for a career in the hotels business.

"I stayed in Darina's house as she did B&B in those days and kept going back and got to the stage that I wanted to try one of our own." In 1989 he opened Woolley Grange in Bradford on Avon in England.

"It's not a copy of Ballymaloe, but there is a lot of inspiration from it.

"Ireland has a lot of blame for me being in the hotel business," he said.

Geoghegan keeps a base in Ireland with DAA role

It was a quite a coup for the DAA, operator of Dublin Airport and Cork Airport, to secure the services of Basil Geoghegan, whose appointment as chairman designate was announced last week.

Geoghegan is a first-rate dealmaker. His previous roles include managing director positions at Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, as well as Citigroup. He advised on some of very high-profile Irish deals, including the €1.6bn Avolon IPO, the Aer Lingus flotation and the Valentia takeover of Eircom.

He took over the role of chairman of the Ireland Fund of Great Britain, from the late Peter Sutherland some years ago. The world is Geoghegan's stage, so why would he have put himself through the public appointments process, with an interview and all that entails for the DAA roles?

Perhaps he believes he may have something more to offer his country, just as Sutherland did.

Dixons Carphone moves to reassure its Irish workers

The new boss of Carphone Warehouse, Alex Baldock, naturally wants to put his stamp on the group, which has been struggling over the last couple of years as mobile phone demand eases. He hit the headlines over the last couple of weeks for scrapping the company's separate UK and Ireland management teams, replacing them with a single, pared-back executive committee, according to reports in the UK.

A number of executives are departing and Baldock told employees in an internal note that the structure was "the start of the next phase" of Dixons Carphone's transformation. This might sound ominous for the Irish workers, but not so insists a spokesman.

"The Carphone Warehouse Irish management structure has not been merged into the UK one as a cost-cutting measure. Carphone Warehouse Ireland already reports into one UK and Irish management structure. This has always been the way since the merger, so nothing has changed. There have been no job losses in Ireland."

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