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Room With A View…John Burke, MD of The Armada Hotel, Spanish Point, in front of the sea view which will be seen from the hotel’s new restaurant. Photograph by John Kelly.

Clare hotel looks to change game for hospitality staff

WITH a €3 million redevelopment of the Armada Hotel in Spanish Point coming, owner John Burke is looking to fill 100 positions and is also trying to offer his staff working conditions far better than what one normally sees in the sector. 

While the hospitality industry has often been associated with tough working environments, modest pay and unsociable hours, Mr Burke, who famously climbed Mount Everest in 2017, says he wants to offer his workers some of the perks that are associated with certain multinational companies.

“A lot of multinationals have brought certain conditions and perks to the employment scene in Ireland and maybe it’s time for the hospitality sector to start looking to them, seeing what they’re providing and wherever possible to try and introduce that.”

“That’s where we’re at now, looking at the best employers that are out there, what are they doing and how can we bring that into the hospitality sector,” he said this week.
In recent months they have sought to look after the wellbeing of the staff.

“There has been a huge uptake on our wellness programme here for the last while. Over the summer it included free surfing lessons, guided Cliff walks, free yoga, day trips to the Aran Islands, family membership for Bunratty Castle and Folk Park along with a suite of other offerings.”

He has further plans to reward those who commit to the business.

“In the next phase of perks we’re introducing, we’re looking at supporting people towards further education, supporting people that want to take career breaks, we’re trying to develop a scheme for supporting people with childcare costs, night-time premiums for people working later shifts.

“We’re also looking at introducing health insurance on a phased basis, and a series of other supports.”

Enticing people to work in the sector is partly about finance, but there are other factors too, he says.

“Some of it is financial of course, but a lot of it is just supporting people in a different phase of their life. A person might want to take a year out and go travelling, might want to go back to college and upskill.

“A person who has a family might find it expensive to come back to the workplace so it’s trying to support them to come back and stay in the sector.”

As well as recruiting new staff, he says that keeping the existing ones is a huge priority.

“We’ve been trying to develop the Armada as a place to work for quite some time, this is the next big step forward and it’s where we start putting our money where our mouth is, so to speak.

Attracting people to work here is one part and the other part is retaining people that are here. There’s no recruit who’s going to be any better than any of our current team, so it’s very much about retaining them.”

“We did retain the vast majority of our workforce throughout the pandemic, we kept everyone on the books, we’re very lucky to have a great team and they need to be rewarded, they need to feel valued and that’s what we’re trying to do now.”

The hotel is putting in place a €3 million redevelopment plan, which is due to finish by February. It will see the delivery of a large extension housing Aileen’s, a new 90-seater restaurant with its own 100% sustainable energy kitchen.

There will also be a new ocean bar with an interactive cocktail space, a private dining area for parties of up to 12 guests, and a dedicated space for wedding arrivals with a feature bar and panoramic views.

Now looking to fill 100 jobs by February, the hotel has opened its own recruitment agency, with its HQ in a beach hut by the sea at Spanish Point.
While the pandemic hit the sector hard, John says that areas like Spanish Point have been able to rebound quite quickly, with a good summer behind them now.

“On the coast of Clare we were lucky. Cities like Dublin and Limerick and others were slow to bounce back. In Clare, on the coast of Clare, there has been a strong summer.

“The staycation market, the Irish customers were very good to us and then the outdoor food option, that worked out very well.”

His expansion plans were delayed by Covid-19, but it’s full steam ahead now.

“This is a project that was put on hold at the start of the pandemic, a huge setback for us at the time, and it’s great to be moving forward again.”

Bringing a family business to the next level is a huge moment for him.

“There’s huge excitement and huge pride, but a lot of nervousness as well. We want to deliver this right, want to make sure every penny is spent wisely, that the schedule is rolled out perfectly well.

“There’s a lot of pressure to deliver but it’s great, it’s like the pressure a sports star might feel going into a county final or an All Ireland final.

“That’s the pressure we’re all feeling facing into January when we’ve got to complete all this and deliver on our promise.”

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.