Andrew Kiernan chats to us about Aloft Dublin City’s unique brand approach
A hotel is like a person: it’s got its own strengths, personality, and unique traits, and a hotel’s Sales and Marketing department has the crucial job of communicating these characteristics to potential guests, markets, and industry colleagues. Hotel & Restaurant Times recently met with Andrew Kiernan, Sales and Marketing Manager of Aloft Dublin City, a Marriot Bonvoy hotel, to discuss the challenges of promoting and growing a relatively new hotel during one of the most difficult periods in the hospitality industry’s history.
Before getting stuck into Andrew’s role, we wanted to get to know him, and specifically how he came to be in the hospitality industry. Native Dubliner Andrew came to the industry “late” he tells us, this past two years working with Aloft being his first and only foray in hospitality. Let’s go back a bit further, however: upon finishing his Leaving Certificate at 18, he started a degree in Business Management at The Institute of Technology Tallaght, but quickly decided third-level education was not right for him at that time.
“Call it immaturity or my head not being on my shoulders, but I was 18 and unsure of what I wanted to do,” he says. “My dad owns his own Texaco SPAR in Crumlin, so I worked with him for a while, and then in supermarkets. From there I went into fashion retail and worked with brands like Diesel and Calvin Klein, and worked my way to brand management with Peter Werth, a London brand.”
After spending several years in the retail industry, Andrew says he felt he was coasting, and lacked passion for the job. He decided to leave Ireland and go travelling to South-East Asia, New Zealand, Australia, and Central America, a decision which was to be ultimately life changing.
“My time travelling has been more beneficial to me in terms of gaining knowledge and understanding myself than any role previous to this one,” he says. “It provoked a lot of self-learning, and a reset which I needed. I came back to Ireland with a head on my shoulders and more direction. I had a path in mind, so I had to start at the bottom again, but this time I had the drive to go further.”
Upon returning to Ireland, Andrew completed a digital marketing degree, and, coming full circle, he is currently doing a business management add-on degree. So, we wanted to know: why the hospitality industry? “I experienced big cities, different cultures, amazing locations, and it spurred me on to get involved with hospitality when I came home,” he says. “The aspect of the retail industry I had most enjoyed was delivering exceptional service, and it’s the same with hotels as it is in retail – customers expect a level of service when coming through the door. I also have friends in the industry, so I did my research and knew it was an area I wanted to progress in.”
Andrew started working in Aloft Dublin City just six months before the country went into lockdown in March 2020. He was unsure what would happen to his role, given the situation, but was surprised and thrilled to be kept on. Two years on, he tells us his success in the role is due to his attitude and genuine passion for the brand, which he describes as edgy, powerful, and different. “I think we offer something unique to the city,” he tells us. “Aloft Dublin City’s brand is based around the three pillars of music, technology, and design, and these pillars inform and infuse everything we do.” Before the pandemic, the hotel had started Live at Aloft, music sessions guests and locals could enjoy for free. In the future, Andrew says, the hotel hopes to start these up again, and even use the sessions as a springboard for local musicians to get their music heard.
Innovative uses of technology and design are also evident throughout the hotel. Andrew explains: “You come into the hotel, and you’re met with strong, bold colours. It tones down in the bedroom, but we’ve had local artists, like Sketchy, a Dublin artist, do murals on the headboards of the beds showing attractions in the city. Then on the seventh floor there are paintings and graphics of musicians. From the tech side of it, we have a Marriott app which allows guests to check in, which means no congestion at the desks, and we also have a robot butler called Lofty! He’s not taking anyone’s job by any means but it’s a bit of fun, and the engagement we see with guests like kids and families is so positive.”
The main sales and marketing challenge for Aloft Dublin City, Andrew says, is to position it strongly in the domestic market. He tells us the hotel had one year of good trade before lockdown, largely due to Marriott’s loyal member base. “We realised we need to do more work on the domestic audience so they can see what we do and how well we do it. From a marketing perspective, it’s about flexing our muscles and shouting from the rooftops, ‘this is what we’re doing, we’re extremely proud of it, we know we offer a great service and product, and we want you to come in and check it out.’ It’s also about letting our DMCs, tour operators, and corporate clients know we’re open for business and ready to welcome them with open arms.”
So, the brand identity is strong and well-established, and a focus has been identified – so what channels are being used to get loud about the hotel? “It’s a mix of traditional and more modern techniques and channels,” Andrew explains. “You can’t forget the value of print and radio, but in terms of having a broader reach the digital side is crucial – particularly in terms of return of investment and being able to measure its success. Having a print-out of a promo in a newspaper is so powerful, but with the spread, exposure, and reach possibilities of digital campaigns on Instagram or Facebook, I think it’s going to be the main channel for the industry going forward.”
As a final note, given that Andrew has now spent two years thriving in the hospitality industry, we wanted to know if he has any advice for people thinking about working in it.
“I think if there were more people from the tourism and hospitality industry to talk to students about potential careers it could be extremely beneficial to someone filling out their CAO forms,” he says. “I’ve come into this industry late, you could say, compared to a lot of my peers who have been working here for years. If I had known more about hospitality then, if I was exposed to the opportunities, I could have started sooner. If someone had told me how fun this industry can be, I think I would have been here years earlier.”