No shortage of bookings in luxury hotel sector

DESPITE consumer spending concerns, top-end Irish hotels are still busy with bookings and are defying the recession with innovative offers and ways to cut costs.

The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) claims many of its four and five-star hotels are so far experiencing a similar amount of Christmas bookings to last year.

While many have taken measures to reduce costs, some hotels have also introduced loyalty cards and points systems to encourage repeat business.

Federation president Paul Gallagher explained: “It’s been a difficult two years for us. There’s a lot of pressure on prices. Those doing well at the top end are in good locations, have a good standard, service and value for money.”

Many luxury hotels have been pulling in customers through facilities like spa treatments, golf breaks and other leisure activities on site, such as fishing, he said.

“Customers are wary about budgets. Christmas is challenging this year but the luxury hotels are seeing booking levels the same as last year.”

The Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt Hotel in Co Wicklow has already reported 50% of its bookings taken up for Christmas.

Over the last year, the five-star 200-room resort saw 8,000 guests from the United States stay at the historic estate — a figure similar to last year, said hotel manager Max Zanardi.

“The golden rule is that whatever we do to improve our efficiencies, it should not affect the guests.”

While the luxury hotel has seen corporate bookings fall and reduced staff working hours, it started a loyalty card for customers last month.

Some business guests are still travelling to and from the hotel by helicopter.

The hotel has just renovated its Gordon Ramsay restaurant and is set to open new rooms, with its award- winning spa offering midweek deals with lunch for €139.

But competition with other five-star hotels is stiff, added Mr Zanardi.

“There’s a little cake out there and everybody wants a slice of it,” he said.

International celebrities, including the likes of actors Eva Green and Johnny Depp stayed there recently.

But the industry as a whole has seen 34 hotels close up and not renew their licences in November.

Five-star establishments are also restricting opening hours, with facilities such as the Cliff House Hotel in Waterford now opening its Michelin Star restaurant only from Wednesday to Saturday.

Others hotels have also begun introducing loyalty cards, which have proved popular among high-end venues such as the Radisson and Sheraton groups in recent years.

Ireland’s Bluebook, which represents luxury manors, castles and hotels, said some of its locations opening for Christmas, including Dublin’s Merrion Hotel, were already almost fully booked up for the festive season. “They tend to have loyal guests who return each year,” said group marketing manager Michelle Maguire.

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