Interview with Dara Cruise
An iconic hotel in Portlaoise, loved by tourists, workers, wedding guests and Irish families is going from strength to strength under the watch of its General Manager, Dara Cruise.
The four-star Midlands Park Hotel boasts an area to work, relax and play.
With a selection of restaurants to suit every taste, a conference centre large enough to host 350 participants and a spa and leisure centre to put your feet up in after work is finished, this property has something for everyone.
The Dublin-born director previously worked in the Powerscourt Estate, managed a Dublin city-centre property run by the Callaghan group, worked seven years at the Four Seasons Ballsbridge and helped establish the iconic Ice House Hotel in Co. Mayo.
“My career working in the hospitality industry at a very young age. My father was a publican, and he had his first pub when I was 12, and I was washing the bottles and scrubbing the floors,” recalls Dara.
Upon leaving school, Dara wanted to go into the family business, but his mother encouraged him to branch out and complete a year working as a trainee manager in the Burlington Hotel in Dublin.
“I did 12 months there and loved it. I fell in love with the variety and the excitement of the industry and have never really looked back. I then went on to work in the Fitzwilliam Hotel for two years and I had friends who were joining the Four Seasons team,” said Mr Cruise.
Adding: “I’d heard of these international brands that were coming to Ireland at the time and they were very exciting, and I wanted to be part of it. I was fortunate to get a job as a bartender and moved up the career ladder with Four Seasons and it was a magnificent experience,” said Dara.
Asked if he felt that apprenticeships should make a comeback in the hospitality industry, the director said that he felt the hospitality industry provides a great platform for a young person who has not fully decided on the direction of their career.
“Coming into a hotel offers a multitude of career pathways. At several points in my career, I faced decisions on whether I wanted to be a chef or work in the financial side of the business, or in marketing or human resources” Mr Cruise explained.
Adding: “Our industry provides a pathway to each of those doors. That’s what is so exciting about the industry. That’s why I believe we can attract the leaders of the future.”
The original hotel was built 17 years ago and quickly became established as a suitable venue for business conferences due to being in Portlaoise, the centre of Laois which is in the centre of Ireland.
“We are so accessible and that is one of the best features of the hotel. If you have offices spread throughout the country, we are a perfect place to meet in the middle” he said.
The director explained that he had many goals for the growth of the business, including the hotel becoming an employer of choice for people in the area.
“When we returned after covid we felt it important to have the best possible team for the demands that are coming our way. The industry was in a difficult space, there was a lot of narrative about trust being lost in the relationship between employers and staff,” said Dara.
While working to create better relationships between employers and colleagues Dara discovered the ‘Great Places to Work’- a global authority teaching workplace culture to get employers up to a standard worthy of certification.
To gain certification, colleagues would be surveyed, and a report would be published to management teams. To get certified the hotel needed to gain a 64% ‘trust mark’.
“159 colleagues completed the survey in the last two weeks before Christmas 2021. The Chief executive of Great Places to Work told us we got an 82% trust rating. We never expected to hit such a high mark we are so grateful,” said Dara.
Adding: “In many ways, it is a combination of the work the entire group of people here in the hotel undertake daily.”
The director explained how there was always a focus on the wellness of team members, but this was increased when the pandemic hit.
“During Covid, the other managers and I made care bags and drove them around to the homes of our colleagues. Everybody who comes to work wants to do a really good job, our role is to create an environment where individuals can progress and grow,” said Dara.
Speaking of the impact of the pandemic Mr Cruise told how Midlands Park Hotel closed its doors in March 2020. However, after the Easter weekend, they started a successful takeaway service.
“The response from the people of Portlaoise was phenomenal. We were inundated with demand, five nights a week and it allowed us to start emerging from Covid. Since that weekend I am delighted to say we haven’t had to close the business at all,” said the director.
“In July 2020 when the first lockdown ended, we secured a local contract from a multinational who was building a factory at the time. They required accommodation for specialist engineers from Germany and the US. It allowed us to bring back 60% of the workforce” added Dara.
Asked what is in the pipeline for Midlands Park hotel the director said that there are three big, exciting projects happening in the next year.
“We are going to add another conference room to the hotel. In the fitness space, we want to add a heated fitness facility, and given the strength of our couple’s deluxe rooms, we will transform five more rooms into these suites,” said Dara.
“The demand is there so I need to respond to it. I am optimistic about the future, cautious as well at this moment in time given everything that is going on in the world unfortunately and very aware of the rising costs of doing business now.”
“Our ambition as an organisation is to continue to grow. If you can grow your people, they will take your culture and your values and help future businesses” added the director.
by Katherine Gannon.