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When tourism becomes part of your DNA

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Klara Vrlik Duty Manager with Ellen Beechinor, Receptionist at Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa, West Cork

Klara Vrlik Duty Manager with Ellen Beechinor, Receptionist at Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa, West Cork

Klara Vrlik Duty Manager with Ellen Beechinor, Receptionist at Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa, West Cork

Although they are at very different stages in their careers, water park operator Richie O’Hara and hotel duty manager Klara Vrlika have the same inherent drive to succeed in tourism

Measuring 6.52 metres, the Round Tower Slide at the Baysports water park at Lough Ree, Co Roscommon holds the Guinness World Record for the tallest floating inflatable slide in the world. It’s one of the many features that have allowed Baysports to maintain its status as the largest and most distinctive water park in Ireland since 2014.

“We design many of our own inflatable pieces themed with local and national points of interest. Working in the tourism business has given us the freedom to be creative and good innovators, inspired by the history of the River Shannon and surrounding areas,” says owner and managing director Richie O’Hara, who founded the business in 2007.

O’Hara started his first tourism business in 1981 offering adventure packages and hotel accommodation in Achill, Co Mayo.The potential he saw for tourism as a career for himself had come while working as a physical education teacher there and put in charge of an outdoor education centre.

In establishing Baysports, O’Hara replicated what he had done in Achill – offering water-based activities such as kayaking, wind surfing and passenger-boat trips – before introducing inflatables into the mix in 2010.

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Managing Director Richie O'Hara with son Richard O'Hara Jnr, Creative and Marketing Director at Baysports, Athlone

Managing Director Richie O'Hara with son Richard O'Hara Jnr, Creative and Marketing Director at Baysports, Athlone

Managing Director Richie O'Hara with son Richard O'Hara Jnr, Creative and Marketing Director at Baysports, Athlone

The Baysports management team are all committed to careers in the industry, even though their undergraduate degrees were not tourism-related, O’Hara notes. His son Richard studied product design and has been very involved in the creation of Baysports’ unique slides. Now the creative and marketing director of the business, he is currently doing a master’s in tourism management at Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest.

O’Hara’s second son George, operations and strategic development director, has a degree in food science and will start a master’s in business strategy this September.The other managers, sisters Ruth and Orlaith O’Brien and Tomas Hurley, have been with Baysports for years.

“There’s huge variety in this business; it’s a personable and exciting career to be in. For me, it’s had a big impact on my physical and mental health,” says O’Hara. “In the early days of the water park, we had 16 people working here. Now there are eight full-time staff members and 80 part-timers and we had 80,000 visitors last year. We have engaged many young people who went on to make tourism their career because of the taste they got for it with us. They have gone into a range of areas from activity tourism to tour guiding.”

O’Hara has been heavily involved in various tourism authorities in the West at board level over the years and is passionate about helping to shape things for the future.

Croatian-born Klara Vrlika is an example of the emerging young talent of today keen to make their mark in the tourism industry. Winner of the Irish Hotel Federation National Employee of the Year 2022 award, she is currently a duty manager at Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa in Co Cork, with aspirations to become a general manager and group revenue manager in the coming years.

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Klara Vrlika, Duty Manager at Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa

Klara Vrlika, Duty Manager at Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa

Klara Vrlika, Duty Manager at Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa

“I studied to be a vet, but that didn’t work out, so worked in restaurants and bars in Croatia. My partner and I had a holiday in Ireland and liked it so much we booked one-way tickets in 2019. I started out as a receptionist at Inchydoney, got the hang of it and found it fun. By June of last year I had become head receptionist and I started my first duty management shifts last September,” Vrlika explains.

“From the beginning I have always given 100% with all of the guests and focused on building relationships with them; making sure they have everything they need for their stay and recognising guests that come back to us.

“If you put it all together [given the Covid-19 lockdowns], I don’t even have a full year’s experience, but have progressed so quickly. Now I feel this career is set in stone for the rest of my life. Everyone at Inchydoney has been so good to me; there are people here since 1998, the year I was born. They took me in and it’s like a little family to me now.”

In January of this year, Vrlika was chosen by the Inchydoney management team to do a three-year Bachelor of Arts in Hotel Management at Munster Technological University, which includes work-based learning in different departments at the hotel.

“It’s such a good course for people who want to progress; I really feel doors will open for me because of it. The owners and management team have been so accommodating to me, working the rota around my studies and giving me time off for exams and to de-stress afterwards,” she says.

“The first semester was mostly about the industry itself, hotel management and how to deal with people and run a good operation. As a duty manager I deal with 50 full-time staff and 250 part-time workers from all departments and so far I’ve never had any issues. Everybody here is friendly, positive and open.”

“Working in the tourism business has given us the freedom to be creative and good innovators, inspired by the history of the River Shannon and surrounding areas.”

“If you put it all together, I don’t even have a full year’s experience, but have progressed so quickly. Now I feel this career is set in stone for the rest of my life.”

If you are a tourism business recruiting new staff, explore our marketing tools, expert tips and supports here. Check out Fáilte Ireland’s wide range of Tourism Careers supports here.


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