Carton House – a Fairmont managed hotel: Interview with John Keating
John Keating joined Fairmont St Andrews in June 2015, and oversees the latest addition to the Fairmont Luxury Group – Carton House. He talks to Hayley Bortolotti about supporting people returning from furlough, the newly completed renovation program bringing the beautiful 18th century mansion back to life, and what his biggest learning curve has been over the past 12 months.
With many of your existing people returning from furlough how are you supporting their return to work in terms of engagement and re-training?
This is a very very important subject and needs to be handled with full sensitivity. What we have done is invite all returning to work team members and managers to pre-return-to-work interviews as well as pre-return to work training sessions and in many cases on an individual basis.
Re-induction for previous employees, full induction for new employees and complete brand immersion training for all colleagues, as Fairmont/Accor are a new brand in Ireland. We have also set up a “Mindful Matters” team and private line for colleagues who may need any further support.
How are you dealing with the huge challenge of getting newly recruited teams trained and ready for opening?
We have a full 3-week training programme for all new employees, training alongside returning employees who act as role play guests so as not to put our new recruits in the front line straightaway, allowing for confidence building.
Are you concerned that newly recruited people from outside the Industry are likely to leave you once other sectors recover? Have you adapted your employee retention strategy to reduce this risk?
In the first instance we are making the experience of joining hospitality as a new recruit “the best move you have ever made” and have also introduced monthly job chats, as millennials like to be engaged with and their ideas listened to, which is often the piece missing in the recruitment and retention process.
These monthly meetings work towards a more formal quarterly review leading to a full annual review, training evaluation and future career opportunities are discussed at every touch point.
What marketing campaigns are you putting in place to attract the staycation market and what impact are you seeing on forward bookings for the summer?
Outdoors Outdoors Outdoors! With over 1000 acres of land, 2 championship golf courses, 5 mins from the historical town of Leixlip, the beautiful garden town of Kildare and 40 mins from Dublin, we feel we are in an idyllic position to offer multiple activities and the Irish love to staycation – it’s their favourite place in the world!
We are already seeing demand for domestic, leisure and golf business for the summer months.
At the heart of your local community, you offer a lifeline to small local businesses. Without the international traveller the impact will surely be felt amongst them. How will you encourage the domestic staycation market to engage in what the local community has to offer?
The local community is always important to any business especially hospitality, but post pandemic it is vital to support those small local businesses who have suffered more than anyone. It is not just important to the community it is important for the experience of our visiting guests going into local shops, eating in local cafes and restaurants, experiencing arts and crafts in the local area is what makes any visit complete.
We must make sure to spend time in the community with these local businesses to understand how best to get our guests to engage with them and act as a partner and driver in the local economy.
Many businesses have been forced to pivot their offering over the past 12 months; what changes and innovations have you introduced that you are most proud of?
In the case of Carton House, a Fairmont managed hotel, we have just completed a renovation program bringing this beautiful 18th Century Mansion back to life and into the 5-star luxury market. The glass façade surrounding the stonework allowing for an indoor-outdoor feel from the courtyard to the reception will be the pièce de résistance in this 12-month refurbishment program.
For you personally what has been the biggest learning curve over the past 12 months?
Hospitality Managers always need to be flexible and nimble in business, it goes with the territory. What I have learned over this period is that my experience has been pivotal in keeping my team motivated and positive in the knowledge that we are all here for each other.
Area General Manager, Luxury Brands Scotland & Ireland Accor
John Keating joined Fairmont St Andrews in June 2015. An Irish national, John has worked within the hospitality industry for more than 30 years. He studied at the Thames Valley University, London, completed his hotel management training at the Ritz Hotel, and is also a ‘master restaurateur’ and recently graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Asset Management.
He has many years of international experience in hotel operations and openings across a wide range of luxury properties and brands around the world. Management stints in Lucknam Park and Bath Spa, in the UK, were followed by eight years in Asia with CCA International in five-star resorts and golf clubs in China, Indonesia, Taiwan, Russia, and the Bahamas. He was the opening General Manager at Sandals Emerald Bay, Bahamas, and Managing Director of Cameron House, Loch Lomond.
During his time at Fairmont St Andrews the resort has received multiple awards under his leadership. John has been shortlisted for General Manager of the Year at the prestigious Catey Awards as well as Best Hotel General Manager at the Scottish Hospitality Awards.
During his tenure he has also used his influence to affect tangible changes to operate as sustainably as possible. He has accepted multiple sustainability focused awards on behalf of the hotel using during his time at the resort including the AA Eco Hotel of the Year (2018-2019), Fife Business Award: Greenest Business (2019) and the CIS Excellence Awards: Sustainable Business Award (2019).
In 2019 John was promoted to Area General Manager Luxury Brands Scotland and Ireland overseeing the latest addition to the Fairmont Luxury Group – Carton House, a Fairmont managed hotel which has recently completed a multi-million pound renovation to bring the estate back to the heights of its great house splendour.