Luxury hotels are potent symbols of nation's changing fortunes
DOONBEG Lodge and Golf Course, the Clare resort just snapped up by Donald Trump, is undoubtedly luxurious.
Located on 400 acres of land, the property boasts its own spa, two restaurants led by an award-winning chef, and a golf course where 16 of 18 holes have sweeping views of the Atlantic.
The hotel features polished stone floors, beamed ceilings and antique fireplaces, while its suites offer guests goose down quilts and walk-in showers after long days spent teeing off.
But for all its luxury, Doonbeg still has a ways to go when it comes to competing with the world's finest hotels. 'Institutional Investor' magazine has drawn up a list of the world's top 100, as recommended by a group of well-travelled senior financial executives – and the results are impressive even if no Irish hotels get a mention.
In first place for 2013 was Tokyo's Shangri-La Hotel. Located high above one of the city's largest train stations across 13 floors in the Marunouchi Trust Tower, it is home to more than 2,000 artworks as well as elevators decked out with chandeliers and black-mirrored ceilings and the largest spa suites in Tokyo. Guests willing to pay close to €20,000 for its 'presidential suite' enjoy views of the city's Imperial Gardens and Mount Fuji, as well as 1,000-thread-count sheets and a menu of pillows.
Third place went to the New York St Regis, the Manhattan giant located four blocks from Central Park. The hotel has a rich heritage: Salvador Dali and his wife Gala famously lived there every fall and winter in the 1960s and 1970s, while Marlene Dietrich was a regular guest.
Its spa provides intriguing therapies like "spinal reflex analysis" and something called "Bowenwork", while the hotel's butlers are happy to wake you every morning with newspapers and a weather report.
It even offers a "stationery bar", where guests are invited to create bespoke stationery sets.
But luxury hotels haven't had an easy ride in the wake of the recession. A distaste for flashy spending coupled with tighter corporate budgets meant the luxury accommodation sector was one of the hardest hit in the developed world. Several top-tier Irish names went under, including the Ritz Carlton in Wicklow, which changed owners last year.
"As a symbol of Ireland's boom and bust, the hotel industry is hard to beat," says Savills director Tom Barrett. "It was one of the biggest casualties of the property crash. With generous tax concessions oiling the wheels of growth, a proliferation of four- and five-star hotels fed into the taste for conspicuous consumption in the Celtic Tiger years, leaving the industry cruelly exposed when recession came."
But with the economy now in recovery mode, experts are warning that Dublin could soon face a shortage of suitable beds for foreign visitors flocking to the capital to do business. Grand Canal Dock's The Marker is the only large luxury entrant to open in the city in at least three years.