New President of IHF, Michael Magner ‘Unlocking the Future’

Wednesday, June 05, 2024. 1:15pm

Read the interview below:

Michael Magner, new IHF President and owner of Vienna Woods hotel in Cork, on making hospitality centre stage in Ireland

If a couple checks in for a night at the Vienna Woods hotel in Cork they will receive a single key card – not two – and with good reason. The key card traditionally accesses the electricity in a room. Guests with two cards often leave one card in the room, burning energy, and step out with their second card. “If guests ask us for a second key, we will issue them with one,” says Michael Magner, owner of Vienna Woods. “But in doing so, we explain to them why they only received one key: to make our environment more sustainable. Nine times out of ten, the customer says to our team, ‘No problem, I get it. I don’t need a second key’.”

Hotels, believes Michael who was recently appointed new president of the IHF, have the opportunity to educate their customers in the drive toward net zero. “Give us the tools,” he proposes to government. “We have a green government in partnership with Fianna Fáil and a green minister for tourism. They could be engaging with us as an industry to be educators. We’re low hanging fruit in terms of introducing concepts to customers. Consumers are interacting with hotels, hospitality and tourism products all the time: restaurants, cafes, bars.”

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) is one of Michael’s three pillars of focus during his tenure as president of the IHF. As a hotelier, he always prioritised innovation – “How do we change how we do things? What can we do to make our customers experience better? are common questions you will hear him ask – and he is perfectly poised to lead over 900 hotels and guesthouses (a combined workforce of 65,000 people) into the future.

The 48-year-old first expressed a fascination with hospitality at the age of 8 at his farming homestead in West Limerick although it would be another seven years before he got his first job: collecting glasses at the River Room Hotel in Newcastle West.

“I never looked back,” he tells H&R Times. In 1993, upon graduation from school, he studied hotel management as part of the trainee management development program (TMDB) under the educational auspices of Munster Technological University. “It was established for people working in industry who had the ability to become managers who maybe didn’t want to study full time. That suited me. I liked the idea of working and educating myself along the way.”

The course introduced him to Woodlands Hotel in Adair, built from the ground up by the late Dick Fitzgerald and his wife, Mary, which is now one of Ireland’s premiere hotel venues. “Mary and Dick were wonderful mentors. I did my TMDB program there and graduated. I had incredible experience working in Adair. I saw how a business had developed from acorns into the mammoth business that it is today.” Along the way, he obtained a Masters in business with HR management. But by 2006 he was read to make a break from Adair.

That year, Michael and the Fitzgeralds purchased the Vienna Woods hotel in Cork which came with 22 acres. They commenced a redevelopment program of the property. “It was boom time and then the recession was a sobering year but we got through it and we built the business up to a very successful business today.”

In 2019, Michael Magner and his family bought Vienna Woods from the Fitzgeralds and now own it outright. In 2023, he expanded the hotel with a €4.2m investment: expanding it to 70 bedroom property. Michael, his wife and three children, live on the grounds of the hotel. The industry is literally his home. “Vienna Woods is a four-star hotel in a primary position in the wedding market. We’re doing around 140 weddings a year and have a mix of business and leisure. We’ve grown it into a fine multi-million euro turnover asset and it’s hopefully something that I can leave as a legacy to my children when the time comes.”

The second pillar of his IHF presidency (after ESG) is staff.

“People are key to the success of the tourism industry in Ireland: delivering that welcome that Ireland is famous for globally. It can be delivered by any person who comes to work in our industry as long as they have the right skill set. Skill set isn’t always about having the knowledge or the skill to carry three plates or pull a pint of Guinness correctly.” Rather, skill set is about delivering “valuable, enduring experiences” for customers. Vienna Woods is working collaboratively with Cork County Council, the Cork branch of the IHF, and with the Irish consulate in Chicago, to develop a pilot program that attracts students studying careers and hospitality from colleges in Chicago [where there is a reciprocal twinning arrangement with Cork] to work in Ireland for a minimum of six months and maximum of one year.

 “The first American student, a culinary student, arrived in Ireland last September and spent six months at the Vienna Woods Hotel. There are now 10 students looking to come over. We can see this growing into something where you could have 100 to 150 students [coming to different hotels].” The concept could be used to fill vacancies in hotels that are struggling to hire talent. “Seasonal hotels along the West Coast might only be open for six months of the year and might be crying out for skilled labour and chefs. Imagine bringing two or three students in from the United States to work in seasonal hotels around the country, supported by the consulate and by local authorities.”

The idea feeds into Michael’s belief that education, particularly in secondary schools, should embrace hospitality and tourism. The sector is after all the largest indigenous industry in Ireland, employing 285,000 jobs (65,000 of which are within hotels). “While we applaud the multinationals here creating hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country, there are no guarantees they won’t pull the plug and go back to their mother countries,” notes Michael. “The hospitality industry will always be here. We’re indigenous.”

As IHF president, he is eager to promote the multitude of opportunities and globally transferable skills within the industry. He is also keen that politicians do not forget about the importance of the sector, which brings us to the third pillar of his leadership: relationship with the government and other stakeholders. “I think the key to engagement and success is to be diplomatic and build networks and relationships with stakeholders.”

Catherine Martin – as minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media – has an incredibly broad portfolio, he notes. “Too broad, in my opinion. I believe tourism should be part of the enterprise and employment portfolio. The industry has to be taken more seriously by government. We work in a dynamic industry and profession. We meet people from all over the world. We work in a multicultural environment. We’re learning. We’re changing the way we’re doing things. Governments are missing a trick by not engaging more with us.”  

There’s no doubt that the industry would be best served with a minister who has the same passion for the industry as Michael Magner.

Share this:

Explore topics: