All female top two ready to welcome back guests to luxury NI resort
GRAEME COUSINS chats the manager and deputy at the Lough Erne Resort ahead of hotels reopening on Monday
With the indoor hospitality sector counting down the days until it can re-open, the Lough Erne Resort in Co Fermanagh is able to make a unique boast.
During the pandemic the luxury resort is understood to have become the first five-star resort in the whole of Ireland to have an all-female top two – general manager and deputy general manager.
The two women who have guided the hotel through uncertain times and are now looking forward to welcoming guests back on Monday are Joanne Walsh and Roisin McFadden.
Six months prior to the opening of the Lough Erne Resort in 2007 Joanne was headhunted to join the team as events manager, having impressed in her first foray into the hospitality trade at the Slieve Russell Hotel in Cavan.
Working from a cabin in the then construction site, Joanne was a key player in setting up the five-star resort, working on strategy, sourcing new business and being the main contact for any sales enquiries.
She said: “When I took on my first role, I was based in a small cabin on the 600-acre peninsula, where we were surrounded by nothing but tiny islands.
“I was able to watch the resort grow from the initial plans into what it is today. I still remember that air of excitement when the windows were fitted, it was such a special moment.
“The whole process felt very personal and we were all invested in the project – it was like building your own home.”
Joanne’s successful launch of Lough Erne led to The Westville in Enniskillen hiring her to help launch the new hotel. She spent the next year as sales and marketing manager.
She went on to set up and manage several dental and orthodontic practices in the area.
Her professional journey saw her coming full circle, returning to Lough Erne Resort as business development manager in 2016.
In 2019 Joanne, who is originally from Manchester, became deputy manager of the hotel before taking the helm in June 2020.
Of her return to the Lough Erne Resort she commented: “I always knew my heart was in Lough Erne Resort, it gets into your blood.”
When it opened in 2007 Lough Erne Resort became Northern Ireland’s first 5-Star AA and NITB resort featuring 120 rooms and suites. It also has two championship golf courses and an award-winning restaurant.
The last year saw Joanne face a raft of challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic but, dipping into her reserves of resilience, Joanne made the most of the opportunity to grow the resort’s offering as it prepares to reopen post lockdown.
She said: “Like many sectors, this has been an extremely challenging time for everyone in the hospitality industry.
“Naturally, our team were worried, and guests were concerned about their future bookings.
“Our resort is a popular wedding venue and some of our valued couples have had to move their wedding date three times in line with the Northern Ireland Executive Regulations.
“We have continued to work meticulously to reschedule where necessary to ensure every couple has the perfect day
“Although the pandemic forced hotels around the nation to close, we have used the hibernation time to introduce brand new experiences and packages to the resort which we are looking forward to launching.”
Joanne’s deputy Roisin McFadden, who is from Cookstown, has over 30 years’ experience in the hospitality industry.
Having started her hospitality career in 1991, Roisin took two years out from 1999 to 2001 to work as a finance clerk in University of Ulster, where she first developed a sound understanding of financial controls – a skill vital to the various management roles she has occupied since.
Like Joanne, Roisin also worked in the Slieve Russell Hotel before going on to manage 300 staff across five hotels.
Roisin joined the team during the pandemic so has yet to experience the five-star resort running at full capacity.
She explained what has been happening at the hotel during lockdown: “We have been very focused on the reawakening of our resort and enhancing our products and services in line with our guest care and wellbeing promise.
“We have created an exciting new woodland fairy trail as well as an array of other countryside activities for our guests to enjoy.
“We have also been focused on developing our lodge offering – in line with customer demand. This summer will be the first time guests can avail of them on a self-catering only basis.”
The resort was in the enviable position of not having to lay off any staff during lockdown, in fact they are seeking new recruits.
Roisin said: “We were very fortunate not to have had to make any redundancies throughout the pandemic and have just launched a recruitment drive where we are recruiting over 30 staff, which is very exciting.”
As deputy general manager Roisin assists in the management of over 200 staff who are employed across the resort.
Asked if was hard to keep up morale recently, she said: “We have continued to support our team throughout the lockdown period to keep morale and spirits high.
“To keep my own morale in high spirits I have embraced the countryside, enjoying long walks, stand up paddle boarding and kayaking.
“With a reopening date announced, it gives us something to work towards and myself and the wider team, are looking forward to getting back to what we do best.”
Asked how common it is to have a manager and deputy manager of a resort who are both female, Roisin said: “Across Ireland it is extremely rare to have both a female general manager and a female deputy general manager within a luxury resort and this is something I am extremely proud of.
“Although still not common in the industry, females holding senior positions is on the rise and something I very much welcome.”
Joanne said she is looking forward to a busy summer: “2021 will be the year of the staycation and we have had unprecedented interest in the resort. We are extremely fortunate to be located on a beautiful 600-acre peninsula and so have the benefit of vast open-air spaces that guests can enjoy.
“We have been incredibly busy, with guests booking their summer holidays since early January.
“Since the opening date was announced, demand has been even greater, and I am happy to say we are looking forward to a busy summer.
“We cannot wait to welcome guests back to the resort and look forward to seeing some familiar faces and lots of new ones.”
Roisin said: “Lough Erne Resort has always positioned itself as a resort of choice for the staycation market, however with foreign holidays currently on hold, the average length of stay across the resort has notably increased with many couples and families staying for up to seven nights.
“In addition to staycations, we are fortunate that our local community are very loyal to our food and beverage outlets and have supported us throughout the pandemic.
“With food outlets soon to reopen, we expect demand to be even higher than normal for our restaurants as we look forward to getting back to enjoying being social again in a distanced and safe manner.”
She added: “It has been a long winter and spring but with the success of the vaccination roll-out we are hopeful that we can continue to welcome guests for the foreseeable future.”
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