A new rooftop bar and terrace is set to open at the Montenotte Hotel next month as part of an ongoing investment programme at the four-star property.
Due to begin operating in late July, the new addition will be the latest in a series of projects completed at the design-led hotel over the past 15 months, and a “statement piece,” which will make the most of its panoramic views overlooking Cork city.
“Once builders were back to work towards the end of the last lockdown, we refurbished our kitchen and started building the new rooftop bar and terrace, which will be a real statement piece,” Brian Bowler, the general manager at the Montenotte, said.
“We opened our Bellevue Spa in 2018 and had already developed our gardens and outdoor spaces, so we were really well set up pre-Covid.
“We also had self-catering facilities, so, as a city hotel with a health club that was refurbished before Christmas – as well as a private cinema – we are fortunate to have a very marketable destination hotel,” he said.
Remaining open to essential workers during the most recent lockdowns, the team at the Montenotte Hotel devised strategies to keep the lines of communication open with the local community.
A call-and-collect afternoon tea concept, developed during the first lockdown, raised €1,500 for the Mercy Heroes at the Mercy Hospital Foundation in Cork. The most recent lockdown saw a vintage Citroën van relocated to the front of the hotel where it was kitted out as a café.
“They went really well and every time we came up with a new concept, it meant we could bring more people back to work,” Bowler said.
“Just before we reopened after the most recent lockdown, we had 45 employees which was a huge difference from the first lockdown. It kept the employees closer to the business.”
Staff retention and recruitment is now, he said, a major issue facing the hospitality industry. “A lot of tech companies targeted hotel workers for their people skills. We have a team of approximately 160, with 60 of those recruited in the last month. We have had an intense focus on onboarding and training before reopening.”
Booking trends are seeing a far higher volume of reservations coming directly through the hotel’s website, while fewer are being funnelled through third-party websites, such as Booking.com, Bowler said.
“This is a trend that is being seen throughout the industry, with guests availing of better rates and enhanced offers and hotels benefiting from avoiding commission charges. Lead-in times are getting shorter,” he said.
“People want a sense of confidence and reassurance. We are getting more and more phone calls as guests want to know that we are providing a safe environment. When bookings are direct with the hotel, we can build a better relationship with the customer.”
Bowler is anticipating a “respectable” June and July for the Montenotte and the wider hotel sector in Cork.
“I have concerns for August, however, with many people holding off [on bookings] in the hope that international travel will have resumed by then,” he said.
“The picture is very uncertain from September onwards. Cork is a corporate city and normally we have a very busy September with a strong international influx through Cork Airport, but I don’t see that picking up until January at the earliest.
“I am hopeful that, by October, we can have some kind of Guinness Cork Jazz Festival. That would be really important for the city and the hospitality industry.”
As the incoming president of the Irish Hospitality Institute, Bowler is also focused on promoting careers in the sector.
“Usually, there is a focus on Continuing Professional Development (CPD) through conference training and networking opportunities, all of which have moved online this past year. I would love to see a resumption of in-person events this year,” he said.
“Pre-Covid, there were over 270,000 people working in hospitality, making up 11 per cent of total employment in Ireland, with 70 per cent of those located outside Dublin city, into the regions. That has an impact on every town in Ireland in some shape or form.
Bowler is positive about the longer-term future of hospitality in Cork post-Covid. “The sector came back from 9/11, the ash cloud and the financial crisis, albeit they had shorter effects. It is a very resilient industry, and it will bounce back,” he said.