An Address Like No Other.
Hotel industry veteran Brian McGettigan of The Address Collective has experienced a challenging year but feels positive about the long-term future of his business and the hotel industry in Ireland.
McGettigan began his long career in the industry working in the family business. He worked in hotels throughout his time in college, achieving a business degree in UCD, and came into the business at around 23 years of age.
He took on the role as General Manager of the Bonnington Hotel in Drumcondra, where he stayed for 14 years, before becoming Group General Manager of the Parliament Hotel, North Star Hotel and Sheeling Hotel. McGettigan then decided to become a little more independent himself and purchased the North Star Hotel opposite Connolly Station in Dublin from his father. He continued to work with the family business but making this move also gave him the autonomy to make his own decisions.
At the time, the North Star was a three-star hotel, with 100 rooms. McGettigan had ambitious plans for the hotel. “I felt that the area was very up and coming, and had plenty of potential”, he explains. “I tackled it and aimed to raise it to a four-star hotel”. He upgraded it, underwent refurbishment, developing into a 170 bed four-star premises.
In 2017, McGettigan decided on another development, setting his sights on developing the car park behind the North Star. He developed the car park into a bespoke premise featuring high standard rooms from a guest and supplier point of view. The Address concept was
McGettigan explains his vision for the Address Collective: “The Address Collective is about luxury four-star accommodation with bespoke, high standard guest rooms. We support Irish brands and manufacturers, this commitment runs through The Address Collective and can be experienced through our bespoke Irish furniture and accessories, Irish artists Installations, Avoca bed ends and in room Lily O’Brien’s chocolates”
One of the USPs of The Address Collective is the unique Club Lounge – a roof top lounge offering panoramic views over the city where guests can come to relax throughout the day and enjoy complimentary tea and coffee, as well as complimentary wine and canapés for an hour every evening. The Club Lounge creates a relaxed atmosphere for guests, increasing their enjoyment of their stay in the hotel. Importantly, it also offers the team at The Address Collective the opportunity to build more personal and meaningful relationships with guests, which McGettigan identified as being key for building loyalty. The Address Collective also features McGettigans Cookhouse & Bar, a stand-alone high-quality food and beverage offering within each hotel.
The Address Collective is a brand that goes beyond the ordinary and every space and offering is thoroughly thought through. For example, the event spaces in The Address Citywest are located in ‘The Lodge” an original Georgian house that was once home to renowned tenor Josef Locke. The meeting rooms are tastefully curated from the original Georgian rooms and while boasting all the modern features you need for today’s events, they are designed in sympathy with the style and heritage of the building.
Operationally, McGettigan recognised the importance of ensuring that his staff were on board with the ethos of The Address Collective and understood the brand. As he says, “The brand is important, but the focus on the staff is crucial, in terms of their development, training and upskilling.” An operating manual was developed and presented to staff, to educate them on the brand’s vision.
With the vision in place and much of the extensive refurbishments complete or well underway McGettigan started the process in 2019 of rebranding the three hotels, a process that ultimately led to the launch of The Address Collective in in August 2020.
The North Star and the Address @ Dublin 1 have been combined into one hotel and re-branded as The Address Connolly. He purchased the Ambassador Hotel in Cork in 2014. The hotel, which occupies a stunning location on Military Hill overlooking Cork city has since become The Address Cork. A year later, he added the Kingswood Hotel near Citywest to the group. At the time, it was a three-star hotel, and again he made a significant investment into its upgrade and enhancement by extending it and re-opening the original building on the site. This has since become The Address Citywest.
All three Hotels feature the signature elements of The Address Collective, including the Club Lounge with outdoor terrace, as well as a McGettigans Cookhouse & Bar.
McGettigan says: “The hotels are supported with a really great website, which reflects The Address Collective brand and gives customers a real sense of what they can expect and experience in our Hotels. The brand deserved it and so we worked with some of the best in the business to bring our brand to life and communicate it to our audience”..” He introduced the “Asave” programme, The Address Collective loyalty programme on the website, encouraging customers to become members and tying the three hotels together. The most attractive deals are also available on the website.
He is also focused on the corporate social responsibilities of the group, and “The business is fully committed to operating responsibly within the communities in which it operates and has implemented an Environmental, Social and Governance strategy that will enable us to set goals around our carbon footprint, water, waste and energy consumption levels and measure activity across the entire portfolio. Each hotel is a member of the Green Hospitality Programme, with an individual target set to achieve environmental certification by the end of 2020. Furthermore, the group remains committed to building long term partnerships with quality Irish companies from Hotel concept and design, financing and throughout all its food and beverage trading operations.
”, he says.
The Covid- 19 Challenge
McGettigan, like everyone operating in the hospitality sector, has had a very challenging year as a result of the ongoing Covid- 19 pandemic. “At the forefront for us, of course, is the safety of our guests”, he says. “This is a key priority; we have adopted the Failte Ireland Covid- 19 safety charter, and everything that needs to be in place is in place”.
“Covid- 19 has changed the industry and changed the world. It’s been particularly damaging and detrimental for the tourism industry – to aviation, and anyone else that falls under the tourism umbrella. The business has been cruelly dealt a blow. Dublin city centre has suffered particularly badly, it’s been promoted as a place not to go into.”
How the Government handles the tourism and hospitality sector is crucial, in McGettigan’s opinion. “They need to mind the sector, but I don’t think the Government really understands the industry or takes it seriously. They need to look at the amount of multiplier industries involved – whether it’s buying a coffee, taking a taxi, going out for lunch etc.”
While he feels that while the banks have been supportive, he believes that the Government need to do much more. “When a county moves to Level 3, they need to provide targeted relief for that county. And it needs to be more than they’re doing. To give hotels €7,500 over 3.5 weeks is paltry. They need to be more creative about their reliefs, and they need to be more generous.”
McGettigan has some strong opinions on the way that Dublin hotels have been treated during the pandemic. “Dublin hotels are shouldering all of the debt, as you have to pay for the location”, he says. “There’s no air travel so there’s no international visitors, no corporates, no sports. A lot of hotels have big debts. However, regional businesses are getting the same levels of support as Dublin, which doesn’t stack up. The worst impacted need to get more and it needs to be a little bit more equitable.
“Regional hotels have probably done very well with staycations, but they will have a bit of a challenge with the summer season ending. Dublin city centre, and others, have really suffered though. Occupancy is down everywhere. Dublin city centre occupancy is down 80%; Dublin suburbs down around 60%, and regional occupancy is down around 50%. It’s tough going for a lot of hotels.”
He is also critical of the Stay and Spend scheme, saying: “The Government are doing their best, but it’s such as start-stop situation the whole time. Uncertainty leads to more uncertainty the whole time. They announced Stay and Spend, but it nearly drowns before it even starts. Now they’re doing the targeted lockdowns and moving the country to Level 3, that contradicts it. Stay & Spend is stuck in the starter point, it mightn’t move forwards.
Whatever the government does, it’s crucial that a stimulus package has to have an instant impact. “If you look at the UK, their Eat Out to Help Out scheme worked very well, because the restaurants got the benefit immediately”, says McGettigan. “A lot of businesses there have continued doing it, because it was successful. Ireland could’ve done the same but didn’t. For instance, with our stimulus package, you’ll get it back when you do your tax returns, you don’t get it immediately. It’s onerous and won’t benefit you when you need it most.”
A key area the Government needs to address is the Vat rate, according to McGettigan. “What I would be suggesting is to look at the Vat rate. The current Vat reduction has had no impact whatsoever”, he says. “Also, the wage subsidy has been helpful, but it is going to have to go back to what it was. The current level isn’t going to suffice if you’re going to keep a property going. There’s very little business being done.” He also believes that commercial rates have to be waived until the end of next year, and restart grants need to be enhanced and increased.
McGettigan also has strong opinions on the off-licence sector, saying: “I don’t understand and I don’t think it’s right that the off-licences can stay open. I think that off-licences should be stopped in the multiples. They should have senior staff checking IDs, checking the maximum amount of alcohol sold, look at the hours of opening and tighten up a little. It’s all feeding into house parties, and I think it needs to be regulated more.”
Introducing testing at airports is also a key requirement. “Air travel is so important”, says McGettigan. “Loads of countries in Europe are operating in a safe environment, such as Italy, Spain and Greece. They’re doing the testing, the temperature checks, and their bars and restaurants are open. They are aware of the economy. Getting the air travel going would be the greatest stimulus.”
Looking to the future, McGettigan feels that the way people holiday will potentially change. “People will always want to go on holidays, they’ll want to celebrate something. But perhaps there will be less city breaks, and more extended stays. And of course, this also ties in with the carbon footprint message. In addition, he views the bedroom size as being a more important consideration in the future: “Our hotels have generous sized bedrooms, which I think may be more of a selling advantage in the future, as people might avoid smaller bedrooms.”
“I think it’ll take a couple of years to come back”, he continues. “This year is about survival, but I think next year will be too. Maybe by Q3 or Q4, there will be a bit of normality, but it’ll be 2022 when there will be some normality returning. I think the measures in place will stay in place for a while, and things like handwashing will stay there.”
However, McGettigan feels that the industry hasn’t been changed permanently. “I think all of it will pass, and eventually it will come to a conclusion, whether it’s through a vaccine or whatever. Please God everything will bounce back after that. Most optimistically by March, but more likely by June.”
He says: “We need to learn to live with Covid. At the moment, there’s no money, no profit, we’re just trying to keep it going. On a final note, we’ve no intention of moving out of the industry, but everyone has to be critiqued along the way. The Government are doing their best, but they need critique. The interest of the country is being thought of, but it’s just to get out of it now. We’ll come back and we’ll continue, as will hospitality.”
The uncertainty in the economy hasn’t slowed down McGettigan’s expansion plans for the group. Next up is a site on Parnell Street / Capel Street which has been secured, with a working name of The Address Parnell. The hotel, which is planned to open in 2022, has a generous footfall and will feature a McGettigan’s Cookhouse & Bar as well as a roof-top bar and Club Lounge.
McGettigan is focused on the long-term vision for The Address Collective. He is eager to grow market share, offering an attractive brand to corporate and leisure guests. The long-term strategy is to expand within Ireland, the UK and Europe, focusing on purchasing or leasing hotels, or alternatively he is open to a joint venture. “Throughout Covid- 19, we have continued with our plans to launch and focus on the growth of The Address Collective. We’ll try and be ready for those opportunities.”