It is a story that began with a young man doing bar and restaurant work, as he put himself through college, and has culminated in being recognised by his hotel chain peers as the best hotel general manager in western Europe. Here he tells Pádraig Hoare that running a good hotel is all about teamwork.
Shane Fitzpatrick hopes his inexorable rise to the top of the hospitality industry will inspire young people to choose a career in a trade he says offers excellent career prospects.
The Kildare native, who now lives in Mallow, won a general manager of the year award for western Europe at the Carlton Rezidor Shining Star Awards in London for his guidance of the Radisson Blu Hotel and Spa in Little Island, Co Cork.
Radisson Blu operates in almost 1,000 locations in more than 70 countries, and is a subsidiary of the Carlton Rezidor Hotel Group, which employs an estimated 88,000 worldwide.
Mr Fitzpatrick said he hoped his progression through the ranks would inspire men and women to think about a career in the industry. “I’m with the Radisson Group the last 12 years. I have been in Limerick, Dublin and Athlone, and I finally ended up here in Cork.
“I was in college in Cathal Brugha Street and I worked my way through bars and restaurants. I joined Radisson as food and beverage manager and worked my way up. Prior to that, I had done the bar jobs, the weekend work and the functions, hotels and restaurants and a year in Australia,” he said. The hospitality industry has been seen as a stopgap for young people in the past as they work their way to another career — something Mr Fitzpatrick would like to see change.
“Across the board, there are huge opportunities in our industry. The big problem is trying to get qualified chefs. It is a problem that is getting bigger and bigger. A lot of people in Ireland still see leisure and the hotel industry as a stop-gap. It will cover them for summer holidays but they don’t see it as a career.
“Catering and hospitality traditionally hasn’t been pushed hard enough in schools. Career guidance perhaps geared people towards the traditional secure stable roles. It has to start there,” he says.
“If a guidance counsellor can identify people with good communication and social skills, it starts there. You see in Italy or Austria that staff are very mature — it is a career that makes them proud. I don’t think we’ve got to that level in Ireland yet.
“In this industry, you will never be short of a job. There are so many travel opportunities. Whether in a group like Radisson or not, there is plenty of scope,” he said.
Communication skills go a long way. People thinking about it could surprise themselves when they see how well the hospitality industry would suit them, he said. “Obviously you need passion for the job, depending on what role you’re in. Some think it’s just about the bar or restaurant but there is a range of roles, from sales to human resources, maintenance to the gym to accounts. At the end of the day, whatever role you are in within an industry, it’s all about people,” he said.
While Brexit would bring challenges, there are also opportunities for Cork, he says. “We are corporate from Monday to Thursday and very much leisure driven at the weekends. Corporate has definitely lifted. We’re lucky where we are in terms of the industry right on our doorstep. A lot of the big pharmaceuticals are performing very well. Our leisure tends to be domestic-based. However, the impact of Cork Airport cannot be underestimated. A lot of our business comes in on a Monday from London, they stay four nights and head back on Thursday night, Friday morning or afternoons,” he said.
East Cork was burgeoning as a tourist venue, he said, while business tourism in the Cork region was also improving. The long-awaited event centre and redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh was vital, he added. “We are lucky in relation to our location, with the likes of Fota Wildlife Park, Cobh, Midleton.
Everyone used to talk about West Cork but East Cork is becoming hugely popular. The event centre is vital, we need to get it started. The Wild Atlantic Way and Ancient East were very important, as was The Gathering. It took a while for momentum to build and then it took off. It benefited us, taxis, trains, activities, food — it had a snowball effect. Ireland is now very much activity-based, people asking what can they do.
Once North American visitors arrive in Cork, we’ve got to keep them here. There has been a tradition of arriving in Cork and heading to Kerry. Now they see Cork as their home for the holiday. With so many good bars, restaurants and golf courses, good hotels, friendly people, there is no reason people should not plan their weekend around Cork,” he said. Now is a good time for the hospitality sector, he believes.
“Most hotels are in a position to spend money and reinvest back into it.” Running a good hotel is based on teamwork, he said. “Beds and beds, and rooms are rooms, but if you don’t have the right people, it doesn’t matter. Your staff is everything.”
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