Combining old world elegance with new world sustainability

The ‘grand dame’ of Cork hotels, the Imperial, is stepping up its game with its sustainability programme while delivering a best in class service

Bastien Peyraud, general manager at the Imperial Hotel in Cork: ‘I was the first general manager to close the hotel in 206 years when the pandemic hit. We didn’t even have a key to lock the door.’ Picture: Miki Barlok

Revelling in a rich history with ambitious plans for the future, Cork’s award-winning Imperial Hotel on South Mall continues to play an integral role in the commercial and social life of the city.

Having invested close to €400,000 in a sustainability programme over the last four years, the city’s ‘grand dame’ has major plans up her elegant sleeve about which general manager Bastien Peyraud is remaining tight-lipped.

Since taking over as general manager at the hotel in 2019, the Lyon native has implemented the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals which aim to transform the world by 2030. “We built our sustainability programme out of that,” he said.

The Imperial Hotel is also a member of Green Hospitality which provides best practice environmental management advice and support to the hospitality sector. The objective, Peyraud said, is to become a carbon neutral hotel by 2025.

The hotel recently received a silver eco label from Green Hospitality for introducing an environmental action plan focused on energy, waste and water management. The dedicated Imperial Green Team has introduced numerous sustainability initiatives over the past year including a #BecauseWeCareProgramme and a parklet outside the front door.

With illustrious guests over its 206 years ranging from Michael Collins who spent his final night at the hotel, to Princess Grace of Monaco, Cork’s oldest hotel prides itself on its service levels, convivial atmosphere, local produce and charity work through its support of initiatives such as Rebel Wheelers which empowers young people with physical disabilities, and Cork Penny Dinners, this year. Last year’s charity partners were Cork Simon and Irish Guide Dogs.

The Imperial Hotel’s outstanding location and old world elegance are among its unique selling points. “We are in the heart of new Cork city. Cork has done an extraordinary job in improving the wellbeing of its citizens by creating fabulous pedestrianised streets which have had an impact on the wellbeing of our Imperial family as well as our guests. This is of course a credit to Cork City Council,” Peyraud said.

In March, the Imperial struck gold after being selected as Ireland’s best city hotel at the 32nd annual Hotel & Catering Review Awards, the leading independent awards programme for the Irish hospitality industry. The judges particularly praised the hotel’s quality of service. The hotel inspector, who was made known to the team only on check out, said she was extremely impressed by the kindness and genuine hospitality of the team, stating that the level of service was unique.

The following month, the Imperial won the ‘Best Cork Hotel’ accolade at the CBA Cork Business of the Year Awards. “The awards were testament to the incredibly hardworking Imperial family who go above and beyond every single day,” Peyraud said.

“I was the first general manager to close the hotel in 206 years when the pandemic hit. We didn’t even have a key to lock the door,” he said. He used the closure to renovate, improve and innovate.

The general manager’s focus now is on his clients and 170-strong team as well as the importance of the hotel which started life as commercial rooms for city merchants. “Although it is part of the Flynn Hotel collection which includes the Newpark Hotel, Kilkenny, the Old Ground Hotel, Ennis and the Park Hotel, Dungarvan, the Imperial is very much owned by the people of Cork,” he said.

“I have a wonderful team – the Imperial family – that helped me familiarise myself with the hotel and we very quickly implemented energy efficiency and soundproofing projects and restored the original lobby and café. I see myself as having a duty of care to the heritage and soul of the building and I see it as an elegant private house rather than a hotel.”

The hotel’s new bar, Sketch, a venue dedicated to fashion and fun with cocktails and afternoon tea on offer, opened in October 2021. Inspired by Grace Kelly, it opens onto Cork’s newest pedestrianised street, Pembroke Street.

Other attractions in the hotel include the ‘Thyme at Seventy-Six’ sustainable restaurant and the hugely popular spa which specialises in Voya products for its top-tier treatments. “The hotel has hosted about 10,000 weddings as well as countless anniversaries, birthdays and other special occasions. People continue to make memories here whether it is for a first date, Father’s Day or other event,” Peyraud said.

The ongoing programme of investment incorporates bedrooms and technology. Midweek sees a sizeable amount of corporate business, with female-dominated leisure bookings making for busy weekends throughout the year.

Career development and lifelong learning are regarded as key at the Imperial Hotel. “Recently we hosted a wellness week for the Imperial family. We started this week by having 15 of us running the marathon to raise some money for Cork Rebel Wheelers,” the general manager said.

“We had some relaxation classes, a walking group, and Ray Goggins came to the hotel to give an inspiring talk to the team. Work life balance is very much something that we have implemented since 2019. Even before Covid we had some employees working from home.”

Gender equality and female empowerment are also seen as important. “Our management team is 50 per cent female and is perfectly balanced in terms of pay,” Peyraud said.

“Our sustainable plan is key to ensuring that the hotel – a much admired local landmark – will remain a place where people of all age create memories for the foreseeable future. We are an iconic place of Cork city and will continue to protect our heritage while providing a modern hospitality to all our guests.”

For more information, see imperialhotelcork.com