The Irish tourism industry’s lauded “céad míle fáilte” has never been in doubt, even with the body blow it took during the pandemic.
Now the Fáilte Ireland Employer Excellence initiative is taking the opportunity to champion star employers across the entire tourism and hospitality industry and position the sector as a rewarding and attractive place to work as it continues to rebuild the staff and skills necessary to maintain Ireland’s impeccable reputation as a quality tourist destination.
Great Place to Work is supporting registered businesses for the initiative by helping them with a detailed employee survey and feedback process.
More than 150 businesses across the entire spectrum of tourism and hospitality registered for the initiative since its launch in September 2022, says Fania Stoney of Great Place to Work. “A number have gone on to be certified as a great place to work, which is a great achievement, and a select number will go on to be selected as best workplaces.”
As above, so below
One of those businesses is the famed Aillwee Burren Experience (including the titular caves) in Ballyvaughan, Co Clare. Managing director Nuala Mulqueeney says that as the breadth of what the attraction offers has increased – “both over and underground” – since they first opened in 1976, so too has their need for skilled staff. Falconers, cheesemakers, farmers and tour guides all work side-by-side in the family business.
What is important to me and my family really resonates through the rest of the team in terms of our involvement in the community— Nuala Mulqueeney, Aillwee Burren Experience
“One of our main aims as a family company in rural north Clare is that we can deliver on careers in the Burren,” she says. The business has 38 full-time employees, as well as up to an additional 30 summer staff, “and when Santa is in town there could be anything up to 100 elves around the place”. Retention is high; teens who work at the caves during the summer holidays often continue to do so when they begin third-level, and some have even returned as full-time employees.
The findings of the GPTW employee survey were welcomed by Mulqueeney, who says they happily served to demonstrate how aligned they and Aillwee’s employees are when it comes to the priorities of the business.
“What is important to me and my family really resonates through the rest of the team in terms of our involvement in the community – we could see that the people who work with us are proud that we are so invested in the community,” she explains. “They also appreciate our efforts to reduce our impact on the environment. So to see that they are proud of what the company stands for was great news to me. It also showed that we are a fun place to work and a relaxed place to work, which is good because we are delivering experiences to people on their holidays, and we want them to relax.”
Participating in the Employer Excellence programme makes “people even more proud to be doing what they are doing”, Mulqueeney adds. “The content and the delivery of the programme is very good, it’s pleasing to the eye and ear, and it’s bespoke for us as a unique tourist attraction.”
A newer attraction is EPIC – The Irish Emigration Museum, located in the Dublin Docklands. The unique interactive museum was awarded the title of Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction at the World Travel Awards three years in a row, in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Catherine Smith McKiernan, group HR director with EPIC, says the attraction “jumped at the opportunity” to participate in the Employee Excellence programme last September. EPIC was subsequently certified as a Great Place to Work in October 2022.
We now have a clear set of actions built into our strategic plan to ensure we retain our high standards— Catherine Smith McKiernan, EPIC
“We were proud to have been identified as one of the pilot employers,” she says. “We knew that surveying our staff and getting an objective measurement of workplace engagement levels would help us to focus our plans for 2023 and beyond. In addition, it was a chance for our people to benefit from the online, self-paced training suite.”
According to Smith McKiernan, EPIC has worked hard since 2019 to build its employer brand “and to be recognised in the industry as a great employer and a great place to work”.
“Being certified as a Great Place to Work adds enormous value to our employer brand. Through the GPTW survey we now know objectively where we are excelling and where we need to improve to continue to be an engaging workplace for our people. Through the accreditation process, including the survey and feedback via GPTW, we now have a clear set of actions built into our strategic plan to ensure we retain our high standards.”
She praises the support offered by GPTW throughout the process. “GPTW gave us great support as we navigated our employee survey and results. They were on hand to answer any questions and provided plenty of materials to help us communicate the results of the survey to the organisation.”
The benefits of this initiative are myriad, she adds. “The modern tourist/customer looks for a high-quality, customer-focused experience, which means our people need training and development as tourism professionals. The Employer Excellence programme hones those critical skills and provides a solid foundation to build on both at an organisational level and across the industry. Raising the bar and upskilling all our people will ultimately enhance the customer experience.”
Gateway to a getaway
Hotel group The Doyle Collection has partnered with GPTW since 2015, so aligning itself with the Employer Excellence programme was a natural fit, says Alan Smullen, head of people with the group.
The hospitality and tourism industry offers prospective employees an exciting career in a people-focused, fun and exciting working environment— Alan Smullen, The Doyle Collection
“The accreditation as a Great Place to Work is recognised worldwide, and is constantly raised as a topic of conversation by prospective new team members during the recruitment process. With the Employer Excellence initiative, the GPTW Trust Survey provides real-time assessment across a range of areas which allows the business to remain agile and gives a positive structure from which to develop and grow.
“The vast experience that the team at GPTW have gained from working with various industries gives us an important resource to use when working on new initiatives or facing challenges that may require a fresh approach.”
The initiative has provided a welcome boost as the sector reasserts itself after the turbulent years of the pandemic, Smullen notes.
“The past number of years in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic have been extremely challenging for our industry, and those who work within every facet of hospitality. “However, as we rebuild and re-energise, retaining a focus on our valued team members has never been so important – and a key element of this is celebrating the wonderful opportunities which exist in the industry at large.”
He says the Employer Excellence programme highlights the continuous improvements being made across the industry, offering visiting tourists an insight into how important people are to the success of every tourism business. And by championing the best employers in tourism and hospitality, the initiative helps to showcase the many varied and fulfilling careers possible across the entire sector.
“The hospitality and tourism industry offers prospective employees an exciting career in a people-focused, fun and exciting working environment. I personally believe that the opportunities are endless, with a wide range of career paths available within the same business – something which makes this industry unique.”