Covid-19 has devastated Irish tourism and hospitality, but the best hotels have kept improving, AA Ireland's hospitality team says
Mount Juliet Estate in Co Kilkenny has been named as Ireland's Hotel of the Year for 2020 by AA Ireland's Hospitality Services team.
"This award comes at a time when hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs across the country are facing an enormous challenge," said Conor Faughnan, AA Director of Consumer Affairs.
"But we know that while much is changing in the world around us, Mount Juliet Estate will continue to be a jewel in the crown of the Irish hospitality sector.”
Celebrating the five-star resort, the AA highlighted its "exceptional service", "warm welcome" and "excellent food options showing the best local produce the region has to offer".
"Mount Juliet Estate goes from strength-to-strength," it added.
"It's a little ray of sunshine in the midst of all the madness," said Mark Dunne, General Manager of the 530-acre estate, who paid tribute to his team and their hard work for the win.
Since its acquisition by Tetrarch Capital in 2014, Mount Juliet has gained a Michelin Star for its Lady Helen restaurant, and added an entirely new accommodation block - the 93-bed Hunter's Yard.
Last year, it joined Marriott's Autograph Collection of independent luxury hotels - a move it hoped would boost the number of overseas visitors.
Then, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
"It's been really tricky, really difficult," Dunne says. "You have the care of the guest on one hand and the care of your colleagues on the other, and you're trying to make them both meet in the middle in a very safe manor."
But they have struck that balance, he says. Guests today still receive a warm, five-star welcome - though the smiles are behind visors and everything from pool slots to breakfast tables can be booked in advance.
A 'Welcome Back' special sees room rates from €169 this summer.
The AA makes its awards based on anonymous visits by a team of trained inspectors who make "exacting" notes on hospitality, service, cuisine, facilities and staff, it says.
Winners must also clearly demonstrate continuous improvement, it adds.
In other awards for 2020, Ghan House in Carlingford, Co Louth, was named AA Guest Accommodation of the Year, while Mulranny Park Hotel in Co Mayo took the AA Courtesy & Care award for customer care.
The news follows Travel + Leisure magazine's ranking of Ashford Castle as the No.1 resort hotel in the UK and Ireland in its annual reader survey.
In a coup for Irish tourism, the influential US publication went on to include eight Irish hotels on the UK and Irish Top 10, including Ballyfin Demesne, Powerscourt Hotel Resort & Spa, Sheen Falls Lodge, the K Club, Ballynahinch Castle Hotel, Dromoland Castle and Adare Manor.
Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said:
"Our industry has been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19, so this accolade is extremely welcome, as we look to the future and plan for the recovery of overseas tourism.”
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I’ve explored a lost town in Kilkenny. I shot one of my favourite Irish photos there. I’ve eaten Michelin-star meals in two different restaurants, and walked into the earth to find one of Ireland’s darkest places. Each time, I could have been home in time for tea.