We chat to Guy Thompson and Ger Alley about FBD Hotels & Resorts newest addition, the iconic Killashee Hotel
Killashee Hotel in Naas, Co. Kildare was recently taken over by FBD Hotels & Resorts, making it the sixth four-star hotel in the group’s portfolio, which also includes Faithlegg House Hotel in Waterford, The Heritage in Laois, Castleknock Hotel in Dublin, and La Cala Resort and Sunset Beach Club, both in Spain. Hotel & Restaurant Times was delighted to meet with Guy Thompson, Hotel Director of Castleknock Hotel and Killashee Hotel, and Ger Alley, General Manager of Killashee Hotel to talk about this exciting new addition to the group and their plans to build on the great work the hotel has carried out over the past 21 years.
When talking to Guy and Ger, their respect for Killashee Hotel and its surrounds is the first thing that comes through. This is an iconic Irish property, and they are proud to be its custodians. “The hotel had a fantastic name as the former Killashee House Hotel, but we want to take it further and start a new, vibrant chapter as Killashee Hotel,” Ger tells us. “Since taking over on April 1st we have invested heavily in enhancing the physical property for guests and so far, there has been a €3 million investment which will rise to €5 million over the next two years. This will encompass refurbishing ground floor public areas and the front-facing bar, a soft refurb to all 141 bedrooms, and uplifting the restaurants. When this phase is completed, we’ll focus on the spa and leisure market, which will be key to embedding Killashee Hotel as a short break destination.”
Taking on a General Manager role during a takeover and refurb is certainly challenge, but Ger has the passion and experience to thrive within it. He’s had an exciting and varied career over the past two decades working in high-profile properties across the country, including the K-Club, Hodson Bay Hotel, The Heritage, and even, once upon a time, Killashee House Hotel. Ger explains: “I’m originally from Durrow in Laois and knew from a young age I wanted to get into hotel management, so when I finished school, I went to GMIT. After graduating, I interviewed for Killashee House Hotel for the role of Duty Manager and I did two years here. That was 15 years ago. Times have changed, hotels have changed, how we deal with people has changed, and how we market hotels has changed. Being back here after all these years at this time feels right and like I’ve come full circle.”
The hospitality industry certainly has changed. Guest expectations have risen and hotels have had to work hard to meet and even exceed these standards. Guy tells us attention to detail is key. “We’ve added lots of nice touches to the bedrooms in Killashee Hotel,” he explains. “For example, we’ve got Dyson hairdryers, Nespresso coffee machines and flat screen TVs, and we’re rolling this out as standard across the group. We’re also rolling out stronger showers, better heating capabilities, and rainshowers in the rooms. Offering guests amenities with superior luxury is crucial in today’s market and it’s what Killashee Hotel and FBD Hotels & Resorts is all about.”
Guy is just as excited as Ger for the next chapter of Killashee Hotel, and he tells us there are lots of plans underway. The hotel’s Executive Head Chef Philip Gleeson is currently designing an elevated culinary experience for the property’s restaurants, The Bistro and The Terrace, which have 150 and 120 seats respectively. Guy tells us the goal is to tell the hotel’s story through the menu and suffuse the outlets with vibrance and atmosphere. The menus will be local and seasonal as much as possible and designed to cater for corporate guests, leisure guests who are treating themselves to a few days away, and customers from Naas and the surrounding local area.
Killashee Hotel has long had a fantastic reputation as a wedding venue, and Guy says going forward weddings will continue to be a huge part of the hotel’s business. “The space we have here is amazing,” he says. “The property spans 55 acres and even coming up the drive has the wow factor. The gardens are also a real selling piece. We have an excellent garden team, so having four full-time gardeners on the resort is something we’re focused on. Beautifully kept grounds will enhance weddings and events and add hugely to guest experience. We’re 35-40 minutes from Dublin and Killashee provides a space for city dwellers to relax and get into nature.”
Guy tells us sustainability is also key and the hotel has a separate green budget. Two combined heat and power (CHP) units are going into the property and it is also currently being assessed for solar panels. There are plans to utilise the expansive grounds for food produce in the future too. “Going green is a huge part of our policies going forward,” says Guy. “It’s not a box-ticking exercise, people want to see what you’re doing and what the results are.”
The guest experience is just one part of Killashee Hotel’s investment, Guy and Ger tell us. FBD is also investing in the people that work there. Over 350 staff work in the hotel and out of that 100 are full-time. “As well as the customer journey, we are investing in the staff journey,” says Ger. “We want to optimise the journey throughout the property for staff, so we’re looking at the likes of back of house, storage areas, and the staff canteen. A hallmark of FBD Hotels & Resorts is looking after the hotels’ people and giving them a good career. Over the next three to four years, we want to be designated a Great Place to Work, and there’s no reason why a hotel can’t sit with that accolade.”
Providing training and development is a crucial element of this say Guy and Ger, and they’ve already hit the ground running in Killashee. “My main focus when coming to Killashee Hotel was recruitment and getting a strong manager presence back in,” Guy says. “We recently inducted four managers and it was very successful. FBD’s onboarding approach is to train staff in a positive manner and provide support but ultimately give them the tools they need to do the job and empower them to stand on their own two feet. We want people to express their personalities and take ownership in their own areas, while driving and improving standards.”
Ger adds: “Guy and I are passionate about investing in our staff. It’s important to nourish the people around you and help them develop their careers. We will also be looking at training programmes and upskilling, so if that barman in time wants to become the supervisor, assistant manager or bar manager, FBD will invest in them and bring them on that journey. We also offer employees the opportunity to develop their careers by working in different properties, for example if a person wants to go to Spain to try a larger hotel or resort, or a more golf-focused hotel like Faithlegg. All properties under FBD offer something different.” Ger is also keen to emphasise how important staff is to a hotel’s success: “Back of house and front of house are equally important,” he says. “Each of our 350 staff have a huge role to play, and if even one person is missing the wheel won’t go around.”
This approach of respect, communication, and appreciation is key, Guy says. Treating staff well and celebrating their work makes for a positive working environment, which directly impacts guest experience. “Staff well-being is crucial,” Guys says. “We have hired a new Group Head of People, Natalie Smith, who will play a large part in this, and we also have a person that comes in regularly to support the senior team and middle management. We also implemented an employee assistance programme which staff or their family can phone for advice if they are feeling out of sorts or need help, which I think is important. A lot of our staff avail of it and it’s completely anonymous and confidential. Staff also have access to the leisure club, for example, and we celebrate our people with initiatives like Treat Friday, Employee of the Month, and Manager of the Quarter. We also work with a fantastic company to provide anonymous surveys. The results are given to the management team and senior management team so we know what our workers need. If you have a happy workforce people will step up to mark. It’s all about showing you can have a fantastic career in hospitality – there’s great camaraderie, great learning, and it’s not all split shifts and late nights.”
The hotel’s staff and the local community are also inextricably linked, Guy and Ger tell us. The hotels rely on local communities for business and their workforce, so it’s important to have strong links through the likes of charities, Chambers of Commerce, GAA clubs and other local organisations. “If you look at all our hotels they’re embedded in the local community,” says Guy. “Our hotels have nurtured a strong relationship with local communities over the years and what we’ve put in has come back tenfold. We will continue to do this with Killashee Hotel and Naas and the surrounding areas.”
So, with the refurbishment of an iconic property well underway and successful recruitment and staff inductions thus far, how are Ger and Guy feeling about the coming months and years? The future is rosy, they tell us. They’re feeling hugely positive and excited about both the growth of Killashee Hotel and FBD Hotels & Resorts as a whole.
“There will always be ups and downs, but the future looks good,” Guy tells us. “Our CEO David Kelly is a very positive person and that trickles down throughout the group. There’s an element of readjustment compared to last year, but it’ll settle. There’s a full book for August and September and Christmas party, conference and meetings booking are picking up. As FBD we are well-positioned. We have a strong sales and marketing and revenue team and we’re not dependent on any market so we can ramp up or down campaigns as needed. We’re on the up and are continuing to grow. It’s onwards and upwards for Killashee and the FBD!”