Jack Fitzsimons is the new Director of Sales & Marketing at The luxury 4-star Heritage Hotel & Spa in County Laois, having begun his posting at the beginning of August this year.
A relative newbie he may be, but Jack is steeped in the hospitality business, having begun his career at the age of 16 and worked his way upwards over the last decade and a half.
At this point, he says, there is hardly a job that he hasn’t done – whether it’s turning off a water tank on the roof of the Westbury Hotel or grappling with viciously-flapping flags on the balcony of the Shelbourne.
“My Grandfather, Bernard Hanratty was my inspiration for getting into the business,” says Jack, a Dublin native. “He had two hotels out in Howth, which were the Royal Hotel and the Howth Lodge. This was many years ago when I was just a baby.
“Many years later, my family acquired the Eccles Hotel in Glengarriff, West Cork and at the age of 16, I went down there over two years – just to work and get a flavour for the industry and see whether I liked it or not. I think I just fell in love with it at that point. I think that it was probably a mixture of the engagement with guests, the hustle and bustle behind the scenes… that kind of energy that hotels have; that anything can happen at any moment.”
The ‘curve balls’ that such an often-unpredictable business throws you, Jack says, are the ones that I enjoy most, that challenge and allow you and learn how to adapt. The variety of roles tend to develop you as a well-rounded and multifaceted character.
After his Leaving Certificate, Jack knew what sector he wanted to work in and, as part of his four-year course in International Hospitality Management at the Technological University of Dublin, he went to London to complete a professional internship at the high-end Dorchester Hotel and Coworth Park in Ascot. Considering the hotel’s prestige, the process for selection was more rigorous than one would normally expect, as Jack recalls:
“Bearing in mind that it was an internship, I did three interviews,” he recalls. “Then I was on a trial period in The Promenade, after which there was a fourth interview.”
Concentrating mainly on the food-and-beverage line, Jack could hardly be in a better setting than the Dorchester Collection’s two hotels, with their high standards, including the 3-Michelin-star Alain Ducasse Restaurant.
“That was probably one of the biggest challenges in my career at that point,” says Jack, “because you’re surrounded by such amazing professionals, who had come through excellent colleges and had worked incredibly hard to be where they were. It was a huge learning curve. They were very supportive and understanding but at the same time, there was a level of expectation to deliver because of where you were. It was where I really felt that hospitality is more than just about service, it was more doing something for guests than just doing something to guests, this really divided service and hospitality for me.”
Upon returning to Dublin and to the Shelbourne Hotel, Jack decided that he wanted to move into a different area of management – this time it was that of Guest Services. Encompassing the roles of doorman, valet, concierge and porter, he was to spend just over at the famous St Stephen’s Green establishment, under the tutelage of Denis O’Brien.
“He was an amazing man… he had such an incredible amount of knowledge; about the business and about Dublin, and is someone I and many others admired. In my 5 years at The Shelbourne, he was one constant who always was such a great mentor.”
Jack had still not finished college and, just as he was about to graduate, he was told of a vacancy by an old colleague of his from Cathal Brugha Street, who was leaving her position in the Westbury Hotel.
“She approached me for the role of Assistant Guest Relations Manager,” he says. “Obviously, coming fresh out of college and to be approached for an assistant manager position was absolutely amazing and an opportunity that I jumped at.”
As fate would have it, the interviewer for the job was a Glengarriff man – Joseph Downing of the Blue Pool Hotel (now Quill’s shop) in the village.
It was also a place that he learned to craft the skill of managing guest expectations and the importance of making the customer feel special.
“I’m a big believer in the fact that it’s not about what has happened, it’s about how you make them feel. If a guest leaves your hotel feeling like you’ve managed the situation; you’ve turned it around, they will rave about you – more than they would have raved about you if they had a good trouble-free stay. Guests nowadays are not necessarily interested in what you do but more so how you do it.”
After five years at the Westbury and a wealth of experience in dealing with guests at the highest and busiest level of a city-centre five-star hotel, Jack moved to rural County Laois and The Heritage.
“The hotel is now in a position to strive forward with a renewed focus on building relationships in the MICE, Corporate and Leisure Segments,” says Jack. We aim to enhance the facilities or see ways in which we can make the existing facilities more dynamic in terms of their offering. FBD Hotels are also very invested in improving their hotels, as they have done with their other properties.”
The Heritage is centrally located in County Laois – strategically close to the nearest train station and motorway and within an hour of Dublin. It has 98 rooms and five two-bedroom apartments.
Meeting room facilities are also impressive and one of its headline facilities is its one-of-a-kind golf course, designed by Seve Ballesteros. The leisure facilities are very strong too, including a spa with 16 treatment rooms – one of the largest in Ireland. Its ballroom is legendary, including a separate stage and there is also a 50-seater cinema.
The food-and-beverage outlets complete the impressive sales & marketing fiefdom over which Jack presides, with three main outlets – namely Blakes, the Galleria and the Seven Bar with its outdoor terrace.
The location of the hotel, he says, means that there is a strong local contingency in the team and the pride and warmth that they create is felt by the guests.
At the age of 30, Jack has forged a very successful career in the hotel & catering sector, making him a good example to follow for anyone interested in a career in this business. It’s one that is very often looked upon as no more than a stop-gap job.