The outlook for the hospitality industry is “very, very positive”, according to the new Chairperson of the Galway Branch of the Irish Hotels Federation, and Managing Director of The Connacht Hotel, Shay Livingstone.
“I certainly feel that it’s a very buoyant season and it’s looking strong in several aspects, particularly in the domestic market,” says the Waterford native, adding a recent IHF poll shows 87 per cent of hoteliers are optimistic about the trading conditions for their business over the next 12 months.
Not only do the figures show a year-round improvement in hotel bookings, summer bookings during Galway’s festival season have been “very, very good”, he says. “People are booking in advance and not only for the Galway Races this year, some of the hotels have been full for the past three months which is very robust.”
He points out that visitor figures for Irish holidaymakers on ‘staycations’ are also increasing year on year. “The domestic market is colossal. People know what they’re getting; they know the value for money is here in Ireland and will remain here for the next number of years.”
There has also been an 11 per cent increase in visitors to Ireland during the first six months of the year but things have been a struggle for a while, as Mr Livingstone highlights. “We’ve been crippled coming from a low base from the last seven years which was of unprecedented valley. It’s going to take a lot of hotels in Galway a number of years of this current business in order to get themselves back on their feet.”
With the Galway Races now upon us, hotel prices are at their peak and many have been booked out for months leading up to the big event. Mr Livingstone, however, has an answer for those who find it hard to come to terms with price increases over the summer months.
“I would compare booking a bedroom now to booking an airplane seat, bearing in mind that 80 per cent of the guests that stay in the hotels come year on year. They would be availing of up to 25 per cent discounts every year and three months ago we were pretty much maxed out in our bedrooms being sold,” explains Mr Livingstone, suggesting that listed premium “rack rates” for hotel rooms are negotiable when booked in advance.
As a result of the welcome increase in both domestic and overseas visitors this year, there’s also been an increase in the number of staff that the hotel industry is taking on.
When it comes to finding staff, having GMIT on its doorstep is a major advantage for the Galway hospitality sector, according to Mr Livingstone, as “it is by far the number one catering college in Ireland.”
“As a whole, the hotel industry has taken on 33,000 people since 2011. It is the number one sector of growth in the last four years,” says Mr Livingstone.
Should this growth continue, another 150,000 jobs can be created in the industry before 2020. He stresses that this growth will be aided by the retention of the 9% reduced rate of VAT on tourism related activities introduced back in 2011, which he says makes the local sector increasingly competitive compared to other major cities in Europe.
As good as business is, it can always get better and while Mr Livingstone commends the Government for the work they have done so far on supporting the hospitality sector, he considers that more can still be done to ensure the growth continues, with more work needed to continue “to spread the word how beautiful it is on the west coast of Ireland.”