Georgina Campbell: Our Céad Míle Fáilte is no longer good enough
It sometimes seems like Fawlty Towers is alive and well in Ireland, says Georgina Campbell, who argues that a reboot of Irish hospitality is urgently required.
There was a time when a smile and Céad Mile Failte were enough to keep visitors happy.
Those days, if they ever existed, are gone - and, some might argue, so has that generation.
In the boom years, when money flowed freely, there was a constant stream of young customers eager to spend it and have fun, without being too fussy about insisting on standards.
But recession has changed the landscape forever and a discerning new market is more demanding.
With international visitors coming back once more, that means new thinking is required - while also going back to the basics of genuine hospitality.
And there’s the rub.
While there are many hospitality businesses doing a great job for Ireland - as our annual Georgina Campbell Awards have demonstrated since the early 1990s and will do again next week - there are also too many disappointing ones letting the side down and undermining the good work done by the best.
At last year’s Awards I commented on the problem, and highlighted poor service as a particular issue - as, unfortunately, I will have to do again this time around.
Again this year, our anonymous assessment trips around the country found many good experiences spoiled by disappointments.
It can sometimes seem like Fawlty Towers is alive and well - and relocated to Ireland.
A couple of recent examples come to mind, both of which I experienced in what seemed to be promising four-star hotels.
In the first, a hotel in the south, there were three receptionists on duty when we arrived - two busy with computers behind their desk who did not so much as glance up, the third dealing with lengthy problems of another guest.
No acknowledgment of our presence, a long wait, and then, after a formulaic ‘welcome’ - just a cursory wave towards the lift as directions to our (distant and far from perfect) room.
Not surprisingly perhaps, this offhand arrival was just the beginning of a long list of ‘could do betters’ - including things as basic as failing to clean off tables before seating guests (at both dinner and breakfast).
At another hotel, beautifully located in the West, the restaurant experience especially (previously a point of pride), was chaotic from beginning to end - and we saw no senior staff in any area for the duration of our stay.
Staff were very pleasant in this case, but ineffective.
That's a problem. We have a tendency to confuse ‘friendliness’ with genuine yet professional ‘hospitality’ in Ireland, and it is very apparent where standards are not being met.
At this second hotel, we were given a verbal apology at checkout and ‘an invitation to return’, but no offer of a refund. If this had happened to ordinary guests, I’m sure they would have insisted on appropriate action, but the damage done by poor standards is far more than a personal disappointment, it’s letting the country down.
What kind of message is this sending out to international visitors?
We would do well to remember that Ireland is just one of a zillion competing destinations, and good service is a key demand for today’s travellers.
We urgently need to address the ‘it’ll do’ culture and protect our reputation for unique Irish hospitality - both because it is, rightly, a point of pride, and because there will be an economic price to pay if we don’t.
And that price could come sooner than we think.
I'm taking action to improve Irish service - by offering training programmes with Conor Kenny & Associates that aim to address these issues, and others like them, in a practical, relevant and enjoyable way.
Interestingly, we are discovering that applicants tend to be the very people who would least seem to need training, as they already rank with the best.
Always keen to learn and improve, it’s easy to see the secret of their success.
The next Georgina Campbell/Conor Kenny & Associates Hospitality Business Development Programme begins on Tuesday, October 14th and is limited to 20 participants.
To register your interest go to www.georginacampbelllearning.com