Andrew Moore General Manager at Conrad Hotel Dublin
Having grown up in the hotel and catering business in Ireland, Mayo man Andrew Moore embarked on a fascinating career in the sector that has brought him to North America, the Far East and London. In May this year, he was appointed General Manager of the 5-star Conrad Dublin. His return to Ireland has seen him come full circle; back to the property where he first worked 13 years ago.
While Andrew is very content to be working in his role and back in Ireland, his return to Dublin has not been without its disappointments and there are certain elements of the capital that he’s sad and shocked to witness.
“I’m a very proud Irishman and a very proud Mayo man, but Dublin is not what I remember it was. I feel that the streets aren’t as clean as they once were. I question the safety and security on the streets too. There’s a lot of anti-social behaviour.
“Perhaps this is a blip in time with Covid – and I hope that it is – but I would ask Dublin City Council what direction are we going in? What is the long-term strategic plan for Dublin? My concern is, if the streets remain in the state of affairs that they are now and if the anti-social behaviour continues – the drinking on the streets and the snowball effect that that has – Dublin will become a second or third-tier city. Without question.”
He recounts the recent experience of two clients who had come over to the Conrad from Germany. They were planning a major incentive event with a budget of €7.5 million, involving bringing 600 people to Dublin in September 2022. While they were enthused by the hotel, they were less impressed with the management of Dublin City itself.
“During the time they were here, they had to see the city and explore the streets. I brought them out for dinner and, as we were walking through St Stephen’s Green, I saw six people urinating in bushes. I spotted the anti-social behaviour that was going on – the music, the drinking, the argy-bargy… On five occasions as we were walking towards the restaurant on Dawson Street, they asked me ‘Where are the police? Why is this allowed? Is this normal?’ They wanted to know if the streets were normally this dirty and were there no public toilets. In Berlin, this wouldn’t happen, they said. Neither would it be allowed in Munich.
“I found myself trying to make excuses. These guys were spending top dollar. The conversation over dinner was along the lines of ‘Andrew, do you think we should get U2 or The Script for our gala dinner entertainment?’ At their last event, they had Beyoncé, so it’s the crême-de-la-crême and yet, if we can’t walk through the streets of Dublin where we have pride of place, these people won’t come here.”
The organisers plumped for Paris over Dublin. Andrew feels that it’s largely because of their negative experience of our nation’s capital.
The question of Dublin and its apparent lack of public management is one that will have consequences for the entire country and island, Andrew believes, so it’s a national problem that needs to be addressed by some long-term planning and commitment.
“We’ve had meetings with Dublin City Council and with the Mayor of Dublin and we’ve shared our frustrations and they’ve been responding well. They’re trying to work with Government and really try to find a strategic vision for Dublin… The more awareness we create, the more we can share our concerns, the more opportunity it creates for Government to act. They control the power and the resources to change things.”
City problems aside, Andrew’s return to Conrad Dublin is a happy one. The landmark property is in full preparation for a return to the post-Pandemic world and business has been surprisingly busy, he says:
“Now, it’s very much about rebuilding, creating a new culture, creating a new positioning and a new offering for our guests as people come back to experiencing their love of Ireland once again.
“Historically, Conrad Dublin would have had very strong links with the US, being an American brand and part of the Hilton organisation. The US was a very strong market for us, delivering a lot of corporate, leisure and MICE business. Since we reopened the borders, 42% of the business is American in the month of August; which is astonishing, really, to have that within the first month of reopening. The second-largest market would be Ireland, generating 30% of our business. After that, it’s scattered around Europe and the Middle East.
“We were very much overwhelmed that business was as strong as it was in August. We were touching 50% occupancy for the month of August. To be honest, it could have been a lot higher but we didn’t have enough resources sufficient enough to deliver the level of service we would want for our guests. Very simply, recruitment is a major difficulty.”
It’s a problem that he’s finding across the board – from chefs to waiters, kitchen porters to accommodation staff.
“We had to reassess our situation and realise that there’s only so far we can go. Otherwise, it would be detrimental to the level of service. If you’re staying in a five-star hotel, you have that expectation.”
The leisure sector seems to be the one coming back the strongest, with the corporate sector returning more slowly and steadily, according to Andrew. He’s looking towards the end of the year with some optimism, all indicators pointing towards a busy three or four months to come. They’ll be aiming for 50% occupancy but, as he says, a lot of it depends on how the Pandemic pans out, as well as the constraints in the area of recruitment. The PUP payment continuing the way it is, he says is detrimental to everyone in recruitment.
“There are a lot of people now who have the luxury of choosing to stay at home and not work. It’s a dis-incentive to work. Right now, we’ve had to pivot and a lot of our recruitment is looking at Continental Europe. We’ve had a lot of team members start in the last few weeks coming from Spain, Portugal and Croatia. Right now, it’s very hard to find anyone within Ireland.”
The hotel has made a strategic decision to work closely with the colleges in Ireland; working with GMIT in Galway and TUD in Dublin, as well as schools in Belfast, The Hague and other parts of Europe. It means that almost 35% of their workforce is currently made up of college placements.
It comes back to the same problem that has been there for some time – that of hospitality as a career not being seen in a favourable light. There are problems with pay levels for sure; particularly in a city where rental values are unaffordable for many. But there is also an image issue at the heart of the problem. As Andrew explains, while many people would be initially dismissive of the hospitality industry as a real career, the reaction is very different when they meet someone like him in person:
“The hospitality industry as a career is often not seen in a favourable light, whereas when I connect with my peers or friends or when I’m meeting people for the first time, the reaction is ‘Oh, you’re a hotelier!’ and they’re excited for me. Then I tell them that I met my wife in London and that we’ve travelled for seven years in Asia while getting to progress in my career all that time and they’re amazed.”
It’s equally shocking, he says, when one considers the long hours worked by people in other walks of life, such as in the medical profession. The career of doctor is a much-coveted one and that of working in hospitality seen as one where you work very long hours without due compensation. But people regularly overlook the marathon hours that junior doctors are expected to work, with few of them assuring that they’re adequately compensated.
“I was in a playground last week with my son and I was talking to another family. He was a doctor and we were making that comparison about the hours we worked and it’s shocking how hospitality is always portrayed in that negative light.
“People often ask me, now that you’ve come back from working in Asia, what are the differences you see in what you experience in Ireland? Fundamentally speaking, a waiter in Seoul or Beijing or Singapore might be a waiter for most of their life. They’re very proud of what they do and how they do it. They’re always coaching and mentoring… there’s a certain pride of place and they’re very happy to be a waiter. In their mind, that is a skill and a profession of itself. Whereas if you look at places like Ireland or Dublin, being a waiter is a means to an end. It’s a stop-gap. It’s ‘while I’m in college’ or ‘until something better comes along’ kind of job. We don’t see it as a career and I think that comes down to the way it’s perceived in the media, by the Government, by colleges, by the CAO system.”
Even in terms of academic achievement, he notes, the hospitality industry is seen as a lightweight, despite the fact that not only are the initial courses (such as the GMIT one that he completed) very much the opposite, there are also many companies that continue to offer free training and upskilling as employees advance in their careers – including the Hilton Group, with whom Andrew has completed a number of quality courses.
Andrew believes that the Irish Hotels Federation and others in the industry are creating a change in perception; in making people aware of the competitive pay structures at entry level and the exciting prospective career paths that lay before those entering the market. People like himself or Paris-based Geraldine Dobey (another alumnus of GMIT and currently Area Vice President and General Manager of the Mandarin Oriental in Paris) are but two examples of living proof of this.
He is also inspired by the attitude of the students who come on work placement in the hotel – their enthusiasm to get involved in all areas of the inner workings of a hotel and their willingness to put in the hard hours to learn the business from A to Z and progress in their careers; to see how every component of the ‘family’ that is a luxury hotel contributes to produce the overall product.
On-the-job training is a large part of Conrad Dublin’s regular activity. Even before new employees begin their shift, they have already completed a two-and-a-half day orientation course. They also use a ‘buddy system’ in ongoing training, whereby recent employees will spend time shadowing someone in the same role in a sister hotel in London on Edinburgh.
Andrew grew up in the hotel business. He was born in Tampa, Florida while his father was GM of a hotel there and the family’s next move was to the Middle East. After the family returned to Ireland, he worked as a youth during his summer school holidays in his aunt’s hotel in Ballina (The Downhill) Co Mayo.
“That’s where I learned my craft and started off at the age of twelve,” he says. “I was kitchen porter and I was very proud when I moved up the ranks and was finally promoted to bar tender. I thought that this was it – I’d reached the highest position that there was at the age of sixteen.”
After completing a course in GMIT, a BA in Hotel and Catering Management, Andrew soon found himself spreading his wings, completing two internships in America and joining Fitzpatrick’s Castle in Killiney upon graduation, where he worked with Nicky Logue (currently GM of the InterContinental in Ballsbridge).
His stint at Fitzpatrick’s Castle in Killiney was a formative one for the Andrew, immersing himself in the food-and-beverage area of operations where he worked as Assistant Manager, before moving to Canada.
“I felt like for my entire childhood and professional career up to that point, I’d worked in F&B and I wanted to get another angle, a different perspective so I took up a position as part of the front-of-house team at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver.
“It was a great platform to learn the corporate side of the business… how they operate; the machine that is behind it, the opportunities in terms of its systematic approach, the learning, the training, the support…”
Unlike the relative isolation of a family-run establishment, Andrew found that he was now part of a global family of sorts – one where he could pick up the phone to another colleague in any one of a number of establishments dotted around the world and seek advice.
The pull back to Ireland brought him to the Conrad Hotel in central Dublin. As Ireland’s first big-chain luxury hotel that opened back before the Celtic Tiger reared its head, it was a somewhat fitting move. He started there in June 2008 as a Reservations Manager. After three “glorious years” there, Hilton offered him the opportunity to oversee the management of four hotels in the UK. He became Cluster Director of Business Development and oversaw two hotels in Belfast (The Hilton Belfast and the Hilton Belfast Templepatrick) that the Hilton group owned but which they felt hadn’t reached their full potential in a burgeoning luxury hotel market in a resurgent Northern Ireland still feeling the wave of benefits from the Peace Process.
A year and a half later, he was offered the post of Director of Business Development at the Hilton in Beijing. It was a similar role in which he was charged with developing the asset to its full potential. After two years there, he moved to the Conrad in Seoul, where he was to spend another four years as Commercial Director and then Hotel Manager.
“It’s great to be back on a personal level; reconnecting with friends and family. At the same time, it’s great to be reconnecting professionally, working in Irish hospitality. Irish people exude hospitality naturally – it’s in the DNA and it’s a fabulous time to be back as well, as we rebuild after the Pandemic and open up to the world again. It’s really like we’re opening a hotel for the first time.”
Looking forward, the hotel’s new owners (since 2019) are planning to invest significantly in the property to assure the Conrad’s pivotal place in the future of the Dublin and Irish hotelier landscape.
“It’s a wonderful time to be home as we look at how to embark on the next chapter of not only Conrad Dublin’s story but on my career and the direction we’re going in with the team as we rebuild post-Pandemic. Everybody loves to travel and I think that the world is very excited to get back to some form of travel – to create new memories and new experiences. The love for travel will always be there and I think that, having seen the amount of people already coming when it’s still a trickle, the flood of visitors will come for sure.”