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A very different kind of welcome - how hotels are planning for new normal


New general manager TJ Mulcahy with John outside the Park Hotel Kenmare

New general manager TJ Mulcahy with John outside the Park Hotel Kenmare

New general manager TJ Mulcahy with John outside the Park Hotel Kenmare

Normally at this time of year John and his brother Francis would be gearing up for peak summer season at Park Hotel Kenmare.

Today though, it's a whole other world, and nobody knows what normal means.

The Brennans and their team are walking corridors, remapping rooms and restaurants and brainstorming how to adapt a famously warm Kerry welcome to a brave new world of health and physical-distancing protocols.

"The way we open won't be a million miles away from the way we closed," John said.


"We took out all the bar stools from the counter, took out every second table in the restaurant and bar.

"No staff were allowed go into another department - only the waiter into the kitchen - and no staff were going with guests in lifts."

According to the Government's roadmap for recovery, hotels could reopen "on a limited occupancy basis" from July 20.

However, with no overseas visitors, coach tours, concerts or events in the immediate future, any relief at having a date is tempered by the grim challenge ahead.

The Park Hotel is planning for around 40pc occupancy, with two-night minimum stays and rooms left vacant for 48 hours between stays.

"We're in the business of hospitality; we're not in the business of hospitals," said TJ Mulcahy, who joined the Kenmare five-star as general manager in March, just as coronavirus began its surge.

He hasn't had a handshake since he started.

"Obviously, we need to adhere to HSE and Government guidelines, but we also need to ensure that we have all of those lovely, soft touches," he said.

"The hugs that we give our guests without actually giving a hug. It has to be a virtual hug now."

No detail is being overlooked. Back-of-house systems are being redrawn so staff can social distance.

Bowls of peanuts will be taken from the bar. The cinema and children's Lego Room will stay shut. Diners will receive disposable menus.

Cleaning and training systems are being overhauled, right down to the iPads that recently replaced leather-bound room directories.

The goals are to reboot the cead mile failte in a time of Covid-19, to protect the health and safety of staff and guests, to reassure anxious customers and to avoid feeling like a dystopian clinic in the process.

All over Ireland, hotels are going through the same wringer. Risk assessments, brainstorms, Zoom calls.

More than 90pc of the country's hotels have been closed by Covid-19, according to the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF), which says it is working with Failte Ireland to develop operational standards in line with HSE requirements and international best practice.

"It's about getting the balance right," says Elaina Fitzgerald Kane, IHF president and sales director at the family-run Fitzgerald's Woodlands House Hotel in Adare, Co Limerick.