Rising costs, Covid-19, staffing issues, price-sensitive customers. Who would be a hotelier today?
Isling Arnold, that’s who.
“I love it,” the 36-year-old from Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal tells me. Aisling is the fourth generation of her family to run Arnolds Hotel, a busy three star hotel where she spends her summer days doing everything from the breakfast shift to finances, hiring to housekeeping and operations to chatting with guests pinball.
She and her husband Aidan work around the clock, “but it’s a short season for us, so it’s very important to make the most of it,” she says. She also loves the “rush” of it all. “It’s never boring.”
Anyone who knows Dunfanaghy will know Arnolds. A member of the Original Irish Hotels Collection, it celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2022 – a century of transition from guest house to Temperance Hotel to 31 bed townhouse with revamped restaurant, cocktail bar and Arnou Café & Burger Bar has developed.
It’s the kind of place where local kids get their first jobs and the staff know the names of returning customers.
Managing wasn’t always Aisling’s plan. She left the city at 18, studied accounting in Dublin and worked at Deloitte. But during the downturn, as retirement loomed, her parents called her. At 26 she was back.
Arnolds has weathered a crises or two — from World War II to recessions to a pandemic. But 2022 was “the most difficult year for hospitality,” she says. “I can’t imagine it getting any harder.”
This is due to many things, not the least of which is inflation. For example, the hotel’s energy and fuel bills are up 120 percent. She removed beef fillets from the menu, and salmon is now rarely seen (“the price has gone through the roof”). Even so, a four-course meal has gone from €35 to €37.50 per person.
For a small business in a small community, Aisling explains, balancing act comes down to “keeping our customers on our side by not sharing everything and making sure we remain financially viable.”
Staff is another existential issue.
“Everyone has kind of hit the reset button on Covid; There have been a lot of lifestyle and mindset changes,” she says.
The industry has had to adapt, and while its own workload sounds exhausting (Covid means it may have to fill gaps in schedules), it has tried to introduce more flexibility in things like weekends off, shift times and public holidays for employees. For the first time ever, the hotel will also remain open year-round — a move she hopes will help her keep people.
“To be honest, I had a bit of a change in pace in May or June,” admits Aisling. “I was just really worried about the future and especially about the winter season because everyone is talking about recession.”
But she’s “quietly confident” about occupancy and plans to complete a bedroom renovation program if all goes well.
“I got out of this kind of terror phase!” She laughs. “I don’t know what’s going to happen or what’s ahead – we certainly never know. But I actually feel very positive.”
For more information about Arnold’s Hotel, see www.arnoldshotel.com
Original Irish Hotels is offering guests of participating hotels a gift of €50 towards a future stay. Stays must be from Sunday to Thursday, minimum two nights, and booked between September 13th and March 2023. originalirishhotels.com/50
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/the-most-difficult-year-how-aisling-arnold-is-driving-a-100-year-old-donegal-hotel-into-a-new-era-41901683.html ‘The Difficult Year’ – how Aisling Arnold ushers a 100 year old hotel in Donegal into a new era