Sunday 18 August 2019

Guinness Storehouse boss: hotels would be toast of Liberties

In person: Paul Carty Guinness, Storehouse managing director

Paul Carty says the Guinness Storehouse attraction is ‘a five-star hotel without the bedrooms’
Paul Carty says the Guinness Storehouse attraction is ‘a five-star hotel without the bedrooms’
Ellie Donnelly

Ellie Donnelly

It's as iconic as Tayto crisps, the shamrock, and Gaelic Games, yet the Guinness Storehouse is almost 20 years old.

Paul Carty has been there from day one. Today Mr Carty, who sits on the board of Fáilte Ireland, says Dublin "without a doubt" needs more hotel rooms to cater for the growing number of visitors to the capital.

However, he remains tight-lipped on whether Guinness will fill some of that space. "We are currently engaged with three developers," Mr Carty says. "You will soon hear about part of the site being developed."

"I'm hoping they will put a hotel in there, it would be great for The Liberties, but we can't influence that," he added.

Having initially trained to be a chef, the Meath man began managing his first hotel at just 26, while living in the UK.

Following a move to the Middle East and Asia, where he spent several years working in a number of five-star hotels, including in Bahrain, Singapore and Saudi Arabia, Mr Carty was approached about returning to Ireland to manage what would become the Guinness Storehouse.

His initial reaction was probably not what his would-be-employers wanted to hear. "I said [to the recruiter] no, I am not going to give up running beautiful five-star hotels to open a visitor centre."

However, his curiosity was sparked and a trip back Ireland to interview for the role, along with a pint or two of the black stuff along the way and his mind was changed.

"When I did the interview I realised that actually I loved it and I wouldn't mind giving up hotel management because the storehouse is a five-star hotel without the bedrooms."

Arriving to the Dublin 8 location, what greeted Mr Carty was "a building site".

"I thought how in the name of God are we going to knock this together into a world-class visitor centre? It had been lying empty since 1987."

In order to transform the centre into the popular tourist attraction that it is today - the storehouse welcomes around 1.8 million visitors a year - Mr Carty got in a number of creative people.

He freely admits they didn't get everything right in the beginning.

"We got a lot wrong when we opened in 2000. What we have now is completely different to when we opened. I would have loved the retail and food and beverage outlets on the outside and people didn't have to pay for the visitor experience to come in to dine," Mr Carty says.

"But we got an awful lot right. Creating the rooftop bar was one of the best things we got right. And the other thing we got right was creating this whole sense of welcome and hospitality."

For Mr Carty, a number of factors have helped contribute to the success of the storehouse. "Guinness is a very, very admired and loved brand globally, and it is synonymous with Ireland and Dublin. People who come here love the story around it - it's quintessentially Irish. We do great marketing and we don't use the word no."

Familiar with being a stranger in a city, it's clear Mr Carty has a strong understanding of being a visitor. "I always say being a tourist can be very lonely, so we want to give them a welcome and orientation, advise them where to go next. We give that welcome to Ireland."

Without question the attraction has also benefited from the huge investment that has gone into it. Initially €34m was put into developing it. Since then a further €30m has been spent on improving the visitor experience. "We are constantly upgrading and refreshing the offering and the visitors notice that. We will only get new visitors by word of mouth and people saying great things about us."

The latest development, which will see €16m spent on doubling the capacity of the famous Gravity Bar, is expected to be completed by December/January.

"Three to four years down the road we have earmarked a building across the road for future expansion. There is a bridge linking the storehouse to that building and we will put in a whole new experience in that space," Mr Carty said, adding, "once we go over two million visitors we will need the extra space".

Alongside Guinness, the Teeling brothers, and a number of other distilleries, Dublin 8 is turning back the clock on its history which saw the Liberties area dominated by brewing and distilling families in the late 18th century.

Far from viewing the other businesses as competition, Mr Carty takes "the more the merrier" attitude. "Clustering works - these are all fabulous additions to the offering," he says.

With the tourism sector in Ireland at particular risk from Brexit, the Guinness Storehouse, despite its success, has already felt the effects. "We are suffering because of Brexit, there has been a drop-off in UK visitors ... a fall of about 7pc last year. It's a shame because the UK is our nearest, dearest market - it's 3.5 million visitors to Ireland each year.

"I'm hoping when the sterling-euro relationship improves we will see a growth back from the UK."

The fall in UK visitors has been compensated by growth from other markets, notably mainland Europe and the US. "We are also seeing the developing markets like China, India beginning to start slowly growing."

For Mr Carty what happens with Dublin Airport will also be important for tourism in Ireland. "It is all dependent on Dublin Airport. The DAA do a great job bringing in new flights. Let's hope they get their second runway and things start developing there," he says.

Twenty years on and 20 million visitors later Mr Carty certainly has plenty to raise a glass to.

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