Today we hear from Colette Walsh, newly appointed Head of Sales for The Dean Hotel, Cork (Ireland), due to open in December this year. Opening a new hotel is definitely a good news story (especially at this time!), and as such we were keen to catch up with Colette and hear how this year has been. Effusing an uplifting optimism that saw her changing jobs in the midst of a pandemic, Colette’s insights are sure to energise and enthuse you too. We wish Colette and The Dean the very best with opening next month!

Colette, firstly, congratulations on the move to The Dean, Cork as Head of Sales! Due to open in December 2020, I have no doubt that these past 8 months since Covid-19 hit have caused a lot of uncertainty regarding an opening schedule! What have been the primary challenges the Dean has navigated during this time?

Nothing was going to stop The Dean Cork from opening its doors to the public this year! The only delays were faced during the initial lockdown when building sites were closed, which delayed progress by a number of weeks. Otherwise we have thankfully been able to stick more or less to our original opening schedule.

Covid-19 has thrown the “old way” of doing things completely in the air… and I feel we are all still waiting to see where the pieces will fall. Has The Dean Cork made any sharp turns on any of its strategies as a result of this pandemic?

Like all other hotels and hospitality businesses, our day to day operations will completely change as a result of Covid-19. This includes everything from check in procedures, house-keeping, to service in our restaurant spaces. These measures are vital to ensure the safety and comfort of both our guests and staff, who have all had to undertake additional Covid-19 training.

Whilst we haven’t changed anything in The Dean Cork structurally as a result of Covid-19, we will of course be opening with reduced capacities. We are also looking at streamlining our guest check in and ordering / payment processes further through the use of technology.

As an opening sales strategy we are primarily focusing on the domestic market. This is a pivot from the original plan, which would have targeted international business and leisure travel. 

As part of PressUp Hospitality, some of us are aware of the style and feel of ‘The Dean’ brand, but perhaps you can give us an overview of what this new hotel property will embody and offer its clients?

The Dean is all about fun! It is daring, it is different, and it is not like anything else in Cork – so it’s little wonder that prior to opening, it has already captured the attention of the locals and beyond.

The ground floor is home to The Dean Bar, where we’ll be serving up an all-day menu and DIME coffee to go. It’s a perfect spot to chill out or plug in for some hot desking. The Blue Room is a bright and funky function room, and will be the perfect spot for events, weddings and parties. There are 114 stylish, comfortable, design led bedrooms and suites from floors one to five, all filled with stuff that will make you smile! And finally, the crowning glory is the unbelievable view of the city from Sophie’s Rooftop Restaurant and Bar on the 6th floor!

So as you can see there is a lot going on across the six floors of the hotel, and most importantly, The Dean is a welcoming place for everyone, whether you’re staying or not!

As travel in general is hit, there is a fear that the appetite for incentive travel (and indeed corporate travel in general) might not bounce back to as it was before. What are your thoughts on this?

Without a doubt the Travel and Hospitality industries have been hit so hard by this pandemic. It may take some time to get back to what it was but it will return! It is fantastic to work in an industry with such positive, optimistic people whose tenacity for survival and success will see us through this. I am delighted to say that I am getting enquiries for conferences, events and groups. The other day I started working with an agent for a conference coming to Cork in 2022. This is great to see as will benefit so many hotels and venues across the city.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Colette, you have been associated with the Radisson Blu for about 20 years – and I imagine you know the brand like the back of your hand. Changing to become Head of Sales for The Dean I imagine has brought both incredible excitement as well as a fear of the unknown? And this, without even throwing a global pandemic into the mix! What have you found helpful during this time to minimise stress and stay grounded?

The Radisson BLU group has been a major part of my life both professionally and personally. I had the wonderful opportunity of working on the pre-opening teams for Radisson BLU Galway, Sligo and Cork. From my time with Radisson I worked and lived in three different cities, got married and had three children. The experience I gained through the years has been absolutely fantastic – I could write a book on the highs, some challenges and dramas along the way too!

What I am most proud about my time with Radisson BLU though has been the life long friends I have made with both colleagues and clients. I am very appreciative of my strong friendships with my industry peers. I find it so reassuring to pick up the phone to an industry friend and have an honest conversation on how the business world is for them. Sharing information is so important but also reassuring.

Photo by Joseph Pearson on Unsplash

Thankfully there’s been no stress yet! What I find very helpful and grounding is to set a daily and weekly plan of activities. I then strive to work through it and stay focused on the priorities.

I could have burst with delight the day I was offered the job as Head of Sales for The Dean Cork. There are so many factors which contribute to my excitement and ambition for the hotel and job. As this is an experiential lifestyle hotel, more than just “rooms”… we have soul. I suspected that there would be a lot of interest in the hotel opening but have been blown away by how phenomenal the intrigue and anticipation is.

Of course there is an element of nervousness and the fear of the unknown. However, working with close clients and contacts and staying in touch with my friends and colleagues in the industry is so helpful. Staying positive and optimistic is a necessity for any new job and longevity of a business. The exhilaration, adventure, opportunity far outweighs any niggling fear.

Sales is your area of expertise. However, people are very unsure on how to proceed with sales at the moment, or whether they should at all! What have been your tactics during this time to stay connected with clients? Do you have any advice for hotel sales staff wondering how and where to start?

For sure we are in challenging times and no one could have predicted how 2020 would pan out. I have to admit that I am in a very fortunate position. To be part of a new hotel which is creating jobs and a new place to visit is such a good news story. People want to hear all about the hotel and development of Penrose Dock. I am also very fortunate that I have strong relationships with my clients who are happy to support me and want to hear all about our offerings.

My advice is to keep in touch with your clients, face to face is more difficult these days but a social distanced coffee/lunch maintains the contact and relationship. Zoom calls and phone calls are also a great way to stay connected, it’s a cliché but “out of sight out of mind.” We have to be confident and optimistic that business levels will return and when it does you need to be on your clients radar.

On a personal level, what have been your highlights from this past year? We are all struggling in different ways, but sometimes through adversity we learn to appreciate things more and find joy in unexpected places! Has this been the case for you in any way?

The most important elements in my life are my family and friends. I was out of work for five months, home all day every day with my three young children, home schooling two of them. Some days dragged and some dragged longer!  The mundane parts of lockdown and the chants of “I’m bored…”  were tough at times but it was so great to get the chance to spend so much time with my kids and husband. To enjoy a family meal eaten together every single night – a rarity in our busy household midweek with both of us working full-time, along with school, creche, homework and 101 activities! I absolutely loved every opportunity we got to be outdoors with the kids for walks and cycles.

Another highlight of the week would be a zoom call with friends where we could chat, laugh and at times vent. Friendship is essential to how I live and share my life. It’s so great to relish the highs and help each other out when needs be. When I announced that I was joining The Dean Cork as Head of Sales I was so surprised with the amount of goodwill wishes and messages I received, I really didn’t expect such a reaction of support.

We love a bit of inspiration! Could you leave us with something to mull over? – perhaps a favourite book, a film that offered some escapism at this time, or a favourite quote!

I’m a great woman for quotes! One of my favourites has to be:

 If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.

Michael Jordan
Photo by Tadeusz Lakota on Unsplash

Written by Colette Walsh, Head of Sales, The Dean, Cork

Colette Walsh, Head of Sales for The Dean Cork, a new hotel opening in the midst of a pandemic

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