Michael Davern, former CEO and General Manager of the K Club, is on a mission to revolutionise the indigenous Irish hotel experience with his new role as General Manager at Anantara The Marker Dublin Hotel
We can’t count the number of times we’ve seen hotel properties, not just in Ireland but throughout the world, which spent massive amounts of money on their facades, interiors, public and private spaces, but forgot to invest in their people. Clued up hotel operators, however, know that people are the most important part of any successful brand. Bill Heinecke, an American-born Thai businessman is Founder and Chairman of Bangkok-based Minor Hotels knows this all too well. “People build brands,” he once said. “Brands don’t build people.”
This ethos is embedded in Dublin’s famous Marker hotel, which is now part of the Minor Hotels group as Anantara The Marker Hotel Dublin. It’s not rocket science, according to General Manager Michael Davern. “The guest engages with people at a hotel all the time, it’s the people they are most likely to remember” he says. “We all do that when we visit another country. We want to see what’s unique and different about a local culture – and embed ourselves in the culture and history – and that culture comes from the people.”
The Marker Hotel in Dublin, which overlooks the waterfront on Grand Canal Square in Dublin’s docklands, has become the first Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas property in Ireland. Long before it was purchased by Minor Hotels, who own the Anantara brand, the five-star Marker stood apart from its competitors. From the fifth floor or rooftop, guests look over the beach at Sandymount and across to the Dublin and Wicklow mountains. “It’s an amazing location. You’re so close to the port tunnel and therefore the airport,” says Michael. “And yet 15 minutes’ walk into the city or Stephens Green.” Now the Marker has joined Anantara hotels in Portugal, Spain, Hungary, Italy, France, and the Netherlands. Just don’t expect a carbon copy of those properties.
“We want to be an urban retreat rather than just a luxury hotel,” states the GM. “Each hotel in each location – whether Rome, Amsterdam or Budapest – is true to its locality and its people. Connecting them to genuine places The ethos is to be genuine and indigenous, providing authentic luxury.”
Anantara ethos encourages an entrepreneurial spirit amongst its staff. It creates region-specific experiences for guests (more on that later) and hires a team of experts (or gurus) to create a unique atmosphere and experiences. After all, “everybody is interested in genuine people engagement. That’s why people come to Ireland. They want to meet Irish people and experience the Cead Mile Failte we are so renowned for,” says Michael. “Heartfelt hospitality with the warmth, empathy of genuine people”
The man at the helm is a major part of this package. As former CEO of the K Club in Kildare, Michael Davern is well known in industry circles. He ended his tenure at the K Club in October 2020, following its sale in February of that year, and teamed up with Anantara in October 2021. At that time there were pandemic restrictions, but the property was in full revamp mode. “We had half the hotel under construction and the other half open,” he recalls. “We instigated a mechanical and electrical project for the boilers and the AC, sustainability and energy savings. That was a great use of time, during the pandemic, when we weren’t at one hundred per cent capacity. By April 2022 it started to get very busy.”
Michael Davern always thought one step ahead. After graduating from Shannon College of Hotel Management in 1988, and holding management roles in Trust House Forte hotels in the UK, he worked as a project manager for a software development company. The job was borne out of a conversation with someone his senior in hospitality. When Michael predicted that computers were going to revolutionise the industry, his older colleague laughed it off. But Michael was concerned. The only way to catch up, he realised, was to work in IT.
“This was at the beginning of computers coming into hotels,” he recounts. “I remember when there were no computers at the front desk; no computers at reservations. There was a complete transformation within my two years at that company. We implemented the first ever property management systems, which is hard to believe. Can you imagine the hotel industry without computers?
In 1991, he returned to Ireland to help open the K Club. Seven years later he became GM at a resort in South Africa. “The owner of the resort was the chairman and founder of a software company,” he recalls. “When we met, he asked me if I had any computer experience. I already had a notch above the other people I was competing against.”
In 2001, he became General Manager of a Caribbean Resort – Sandy Lane Properties in Barbados – where he oversaw the development of two new golf courses. Four years later he returned to Ireland to become CEO and General Manager of the K Club where he was responsible for such events as the 2006 Ryder Cup. Despite this breadth of experience, he still strives to accrue knowledge. Over lockdown, he took the opportunity to study for a MSC master’s in business and hospitality (through Shannon College of Hotel Management and NUI Galway) and a certificate in Hotel Real Estate and Asset Management (through Cornell University in the U.S.)
All this experience primed him for Anantara The Marker Dublin. Millions of euros have been invested in the property – including a refurbishment of all 187 bedrooms over six floors. Energy conservation and sustainability are a core part of these works. The rooms have wood-panelling, modern amenities such as 55-inch TVs with Chromecasts, and views over the Grand Canal, Dublin’s Coastal Route and Dublin and Wicklow Mountains. In keeping with the indigenous ethos, the design and architecture are themed around Irish attractions, such as Giant’s Causeway and the Burren in County Clare.
The hotel’s lobby and bar are equipped with soft furnishings, bespoke cabinetry and custom furniture. Irish-themed afternoon tea is offered to guests. A new restaurant, Forbes Street by Gareth Mullins, will open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Mullins, one of Ireland’s most renowned chefs, is prioritising local and Irish products such as John Stone aged beef and locally sourced smoked salmon and oysters.
“International travellers come here for a great dining experience and destination and a lot of businesses around this area visit for dinner,” notes Michael. “The menu will focus on the quality and providence of the food. Gareth is well connected with the artesian suppliers and prioritises detail, quality, and sustainability. We want to create a restaurant that is modern and appealing to our locality. In contract to this I was in a hotel in India once and the chef was delighted to inform everybody that 99% of the food was imported. But because we are so blessed in Ireland to have such exceptionally good locally sourced produce on our doorstep, we wanted to harness that. And so, we sat down and looked at all these concepts.”
The Grand Canal Theatre is a mere twenty yards across the road from Anantara Marker Dublin. In an innovative move, the hotel allows guests who visit the restaurant for its pre-theatre menu to return after the show to finish up. “They might have a starter and a main course and head across to the theatre. We say to them, ‘Come back afterwards and we’ll serve you dessert and wine. Don’t finish it off in a hurry – you can relax and enjoy it when you come back’.”
Alongside Gareth Mullins as executive chef, the hotel has employed “a wine guru” named Maxime who can provide information on Irish-themed and Irish-owned wines from around the globe. “So, we can tell the great story about the Irish “wine geese” as well,” adds the GM.
Anantara The Marker Dublin is being built around bespoke experiences for its guests. This is not simply a luxury hotel where you stay for two nights before moving on… The concept is an urban retreat where guests stay for five or six days and experience everything the Dublin area and east coast has to offer. The hotel, for example, offers fishing trips to Howth. “You’ll be escorted by Gareth,” explains Michael. “He will show you where his fish comes from, what he does, why he chooses it and how it will be cooked or the salmon smoked .”
Guests will be able to visit a local whiskey distillery, take a cheese manufacturer experience, or travel to Powerscourt in Wicklow with a vintage car and picnic. There will be walks in the Wicklow Mountains, jogs and cycling to the beach, and an Irish coffee-making experience in the evenings in which guests hear “the story and history of Irish coffee”. On top of all this adventure, the property contains a Condé Nast award-winning spa. In the summer, guests will have the opportunity to travel to the Forty Foot, at Sandycove in Dublin Bay, to swim in the sea. Afterwards, they’ll return to the hotel in a courtesy car for private breakfast on the rooftop.
Anantara Marker Dublin Hotel launch took place on 10 May, 2023. Forbes Street by Gareth Mullins is set to follow shortly thereafter. In creating an urban retreat experience, the hotel stands out amongst its competitors. Its foundations are the strength of the people working within its walls. “It’s all about the customer and their journey and making sure that we create memories for them,” concludes Michael Davern. “We want to build special memories through great experiences – with the addition of warm, wonderful hospitality.”