Inside Ireland's favourite hotel: 'The main aim is to pass on that gene'
Ireland’s favourite place to stay makes hospitality look easy, but a huge amount of work goes on behind the scenes, Laura Kelly tells Claire O'Mahony
When accountant William Kelly opened his tearooms in Rosslare in 1895, on a site provided by his wife Mary’s family, the couple could not have foretold that their establishment would subsequently grow to become one of the country’s best-loved hotels.
Some 122 years later, Kelly’s Resort Hotel and Spa is renowned for its family-friendly touch, an art collection featuring works by Warhol and Picasso, miles of sandy beaches, a celebrated afternoon tea and an events calendar that includes ballroom dancing, wine appreciation and golf clinics.
But more than anything else, the south-eastern hotel is famed for its warm welcome — 70pc of Kelly’s bookings are repeat business.
Laura Kelly is the fifth generation of the family to run the hotel, and has just finished her fourth season as manager — alongside her father Bill, fresh from his 31st season. And Laura’s grandmother, Breda Kelly, still keeps an eye.
“My father was 15 when my grandfather passed away at the young age of 50,” Laura explains. “My grandmother had seven children and a hotel and its staff to look after, and during the time before my father came back it was really my grandmother who was the driving force behind the hotel. Even though she’s not there on a day-to-day basis, she very much knows what’s going on.”
- Read the full results of our 2018 Reader Travel Awards here.
While Laura jokes that her dad is still bossing her around, she sees him as a mentor and they have a great working relationship.
“We’re quite similar in many ways, which is good and bad at times. He always thinks he’s right and I always think I’m right!” she says. “But we get on very well and I think at the base, it’s important that we want to succeed in the future and that’s the main aim for us, to pass on that gene.”
While it wasn’t a given that Laura, the eldest of six daughters, would go into the family business, she found herself naturally gravitating towards the hotel. “My parents said don’t come back unless it’s something you really want to do. They certainly didn’t force me, but for me it was ingrained at an early stage and I just couldn’t see me doing anything else,” she says.
After completing a degree in commerce and Italian in UCD, and achieving a further degree at the prestigious Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland, she worked in the industry in various places around the world, including Singapore, New York and Morocco, before returning to Kelly’s in 2014 to take up the position of manager and bring a new dimension to the hotel.
“Every generation added a new element to the hotel,” she says. “You could say that the pressure is on me. It can be quite daunting knowing the success that the previous generations had, but it’s my job just to continue to build on what we have.”
For her, the most fulfilling part of working at Kelly’s is that every day is different. “You go in and you’re meeting new people. For us, as managers, we don’t spend much time in our offices. The hotel business is about being out at the forefront, meeting your customers and getting to know them. And for me, that’s what I love to do and why I love the hotel industry.”
They are, she says, delighted and thrilled that the hotel has been voted Ireland’s favourite place to sstay, and stresses that the award wouldn’t be possible without the staff at Kelly’s.
“We believe that it’s the team in Kelly’s, more than anything, that gives the hotel its personality and for us it’s the main reason that people come back to Kelly’s. I always remember my father saying that success is not measured in having a full hotel; success isn’t measured in the number of customers you can attract; success is always measured in the number of repeat customers.”
The hotel industry is a competitive one, and the Kelly family stay ahead of the game by constantly reinvesting in the hotel. Last year, they spent €1.5m on new kitchens and laundry facilities. The aim always is to create a cosy environment and a home away from home for guests.
“It’s about looking after our customer. To us it’s not about being 100pc better in every way, but more about being 1pc better in a hundred different ways. It’s about creating those little ‘wow’ moments and showing a genuine sense of care and going above and beyond.”
Those ‘wow moments’ range from presenting families celebrating a special occasion with a camera that the hotel then uses to create a photo album, to offering to dry clothes for any rain-soaked guest arrivals.
What is the hotel guest in 2018 looking for?
That, Laura laughs, is the million-dollar question. “When you look back maybe even 15 years ago, it was very much about the physical and people got excited about tangible things — if you had a spa, it was exciting,” she says. “Everywhere now has all these things, whereas moving forward it’s more about the intangible. It’s about knowing the customer and knowing what they want. The focus is on the experience side of things.”
For more, see kellys.ie