Saturday 17 March 2018


It's the sort of Irish success story we started to take for granted during the Celtic Tiger.

Some of Britain's most exclusive institutions have teamed up to launch a website for well-heeled tourists -- and they've hired an internet company in Connemara to design it.

In these difficult economic times, it's easy to slip into negative thinking -- but 5ivestarlondon.com shows that talented Irish businesses are still capable of rising above the air of gloom.

Visitors to the website will quickly realise that it is not aimed at your average cash-strapped backpacker.

It includes guides to luxury hotels such as The Ritz, The Dorchester, and the Goring Hotel -- where Kate Middleton stayed the night before her royal wedding.

It also features fashionable art venues like Tate Modern and the Royal Opera House and upmarket shopping outlets like Paul Smith and Harrods.


The launch could not be better timed, with the Olympic Games and the queen's diamond jubilee due to attract even more tourists than usual to the British capital in 2012.

The headquarters of technology company Aro feels a long way from all this, situated as it is in the Gaeltacht area of Furbo, overlooking Galway Bay.

Created by UCG graduates Alan Rowe and Triona Mac Giolla Ri in 1996, it now employs 32 people and is proof that in the internet age, a remote location is no barrier to success.

"There are many advantages," says Rowe. "Space, walks at lunchtime, the amazing view, the Irish language and culture. And of course, for Triona and I, there is no commute. This environment promotes a very creative vibe in our office. While we are all very busy, stress is at a minimum.

"Entertaining clients is also an advantage, particularly clients from overseas. We make a big effort to show them a good time and the mix of Connemara and Galway city really has a positive influence on them."

Aro has always worked with high-end clients, including Bord Failte, Jurys and the Clarence Hotel in its Irish portfolio.

It has also operated a London office since 2004. When Britain's top hoteliers decided last May that they needed a website to advertise their five-star services, the Galway team was in a perfect position to bid.

"They recognised the need for a luxury portal that would set them apart as the finest in London," says Rowe.

"The concept was then shared with us, as we manage a number of the initial 10 hotels involved and most of the others were very familiar to us. We took ownership and further developed the idea, drawing on our expertise in creating online strategies for the luxury market over the last 15 years."

The figures are impressive.

Rowe estimates the project will have cost around £500,000 (?598,000) by the time phase one is completed in June, but will then "ramp up" between £500,000 (¤598,000) and £1m (31.19m) a year.

With the website now running, he has big plans to turn it into a multi-media platform.

"This type of project has never been done before, so it opens up amazing possibilities to synergise the products and services from such exclusive brands," he says. "Plans for the next year include the launch of a monthly online magazine in May, selected giftware in summer and the best resource for London event space in autumn.

"We can combine interactive street tours with videos of clients and introduce market-specific client personnel to their prospective customers.


"For example, a client with a Russian speaker will be profiled to the Russian customers and they will be encouraged to ask for that staff member when they arrive into the shop for a personalised tour."

Like every company, Aro has faced challenges over the last few years -- but has refused to give in to negativity.

Aro's success proves that Ireland is still open for business. It's also a slap in the face to all the doom-mongers out there -- who, instead of lighting a penny candle, would rather sit and curse the darkness.


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