Galgorm Resort is set within 163 acres of beautiful parkland, home to 125 luxurious guestrooms and a unique Thermal Village & Spa that is the first of its kind in Ireland. Its sister location, The Rabbit Hotel and Retreat is a quirky, idyllic lakeside retreat that offers guests an outstanding, stylish stay.
Modern Hospitality had the pleasure of speaking with Aaron Logan about the ways that both resorts have grown to become the successes that they are today, giving top tips for those in the industry.
Where it began
Aaron began by outlining how much their offering has changed since it first began.
“There have been massive changes over the years. It was bought in 1991 and the brothers that took on the property had looked after another property previously. At the time, The Galgorm Manor was an old gentleman’s residence which was a small house with a few bedrooms and a small restaurant attached. They went ahead and built this new wedding venue on a 163 acre site and we now do up to three weddings a day.”
Aaron went on to explain some of the changes made to Galgorm.
“They added on the wedding venue, then the first block of an additional 60 rooms in the first few years. In 2015, we opened the new deluxe block with an additional number of suites and this was the year we opened the thermal village outdoor spa. We also had six self catering cottages and six self catering log cabins added. Then in 2018, we added on another 11 cottage suites and have been working hard to diversify the accommodation.”
Paying attention to demand
The team at Galgorm and The Rabbit have gained a reputation for meeting the changing requirements of guests.
“There are 125 bedrooms and suites in the hotel, but we’re looking at the demand and what customers are looking for. Because of this, we’ve added in more private residence properties where you can hire it out and have your own hot tub and area.
“Lockdown had its benefits. We were closed for quite some time, so we used this time to do the work. We’ve done a whole expansion onto the spa. We’ve been developing shepherds huts in a rural setting. These are high end and more quirky, so you park up and they all have outdoor copper baths. We will have a total of 19 of these and will also be doing treehouses, as well as having a site marked out for 22 new cottage suites.”
The rise of the staycation
Staycations have become a lot more popular. Aaron explained how they have seen this trend first hand.
“The business model for Galgorm would be the local domestic market with 70% of customers being return guests of the local Northern Ireland market. We’ve seen a big change with people staying longer. Previously, guests would come for a one night stay, but we’re now seeing people stay for multiple nights and take up the cottages, enjoying the live music and dining choices and even bringing their dogs!”
Overcoming the challenges of COVID
The hospitality industry faced many changes as a result of COVID-19. Aaron explained how the team used this time to be productive and find new ways to engage their audience.
“A few of us continued to work throughout the lockdown, strategically for planning. We have added on and built very fast. We sat back and thought about our offering, as well as the vision for the business and where we want to go. It was a good time to think about the nitty gritty of our new customers and what we want to do, when we wouldn’t normally have that much time to do this. We made changes to our offering, running a takeaway from one of the restaurants in the resort. I never thought I’d be standing there packing up pizzas and pastas, but we had to diversify and keep engagement with the local market, which was a great learning curve!”
The Rabbit Hotel & Retreat
Brothers Paul and Nicky invested in another hotel that is near Belfast. Their vision has carried their hotels to become the success that they are today.
“It’s in a great location and it was originally the Templeton Hotel. We traded for a few months and did a bit of a spruce up, but then closed it to do a full refurbishment and rebrand it as The Rabbit. All of the bedrooms, public spaces, bars and restaurants have been refurbished and we gradually opened it as it was complete. This allowed us to do something a bit more quirky and develop it in this way, to attract a completely different market to Galgorm, which is more traditional and luxurious. The Loft is used for weddings, so it’s something a bit different and it will have its own spa.
“We put quality things in the rooms such as GHDs, Nespresso machines and Dyson hairdriers because there is demand for quality. When you want a good room rate, there is an expectation from consumers too. For the Rabbit, we put a Marshall amp in the room to make it a bit more quirky and we offer cocktails at the door of the room, which is different to the chamomile tea we offer at Galgorm. Those extra touches cement what we’re trying to do and give guests a memorable stay.”
Aaron spoke about the ways that the owners and team come up with so many creative additions to their resorts.
“The incredible thing is that everything is Paul and Nick’s vision and it’s amazing to be part of it. They travel and see quirky concepts and suggest them and even if they sound so different to the norm, they do work. They are very open to the team and us giving our thoughts on how things can operate functionally better and this is used to influence the design. Everything they have done has been great and they don’t do things in half measures. If we do something, we do it properly.”
Using social media
Social media is a fantastic tool to give potential guests a look ‘behind the scenes’, Aaron explained.
“Everything is all on Instagram. It’s not just the marketing department picking the best shot… we use it to show a real life view of people enjoying it and a broader view of everything that goes on.”
Creating the best experience for guests
When it comes to hospitality, experience is everything. Aaron reveals his top tips for creating an outstanding guest experience.
“The big thing for us has been creating genuine, warm hospitality, which is something Northern Ireland is known for. We genuinely do believe that the people make the difference. You can invest all the money in the world, but without the people, we are nothing. This is passed on through the team and they are also very involved. You have to look after your team and your guests. When you break it down, what is it that attracts the high calibre of staff? There are nice incentives, our rates of pay are strong, we have an employee programme and want to make it an attractive place to work. The best people come and work for us with day to day training and high standards that ultimately results in the customer getting the experience that they have. Everyone has a genuine desire to work at the property and you can see the passion walking around the place.”
Choosing the perfect menu
Galgorm and The Rabbit both have a great focus on first-class food and drink. Aaron talked us through the ways that their resorts have expanded their culinary offering.
“A huge part of the business is around food and beverage. At Galgorm, we developed something that started as a traditional bistro-style grill, then launched an Italian restaurant. We then added a fine dining restaurant which is smaller, but really high end, and we’re working towards a Michelin Star there. It’s all focused on local produce and suppliers. We also have a greenhouse area at the resort where we grow our own vegetables and wild garlic which the chefs pick and use in their cooking. Chris, the Head Chef, is amazing in there. We also added on the Castle Kitchen. Given the growth of the resort, we needed somewhere else for the people to eat, so it’s a smokehouse, grill style restaurant and it’s been a massive operation with Ireland’s largest collection of gin and our traditional Irish pub at the resort. We have lots of cuisines and styles of dining to give guests in Galgorm and the Rabbit a great choice and lots of amazing experiences that they can enjoy over multiple nights.”
A positive outlook
Despite the challenges that the pandemic has brought the hospitality industry, Galgorm and the Rabbit are leading the way in being productive and proactive, to ensure they are ready for the coming months.
“Throughout July and August, we were at around 99.8% occupancy and this has continued, which is great to see. While there are supply issues with food and drink and staffing issues, it’s great to be in the position that we are in and there is lots more to come!”