“There is so much opportunity for us all.” CEO Q+A: Aaron Mansworth, Managing Director, Trigon Hotels

By Business & Finance
10 April 2019
Aaron Mansworth, Managing Director, Trigon Hotels

In our next CEO Q+A, Aaron Mansworth, Managing Director, Trigon Hotels speaks to us about Cork, talent acquisition and competitive advantages.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

Within our hotels the priorities will always be our guests and our team – making sure our guests are happy and our team is happy means we are doing well. In Cork the priority is driving long-term demand for Cork hotels. We need to ensure that the tourism brand for Cork, “Pure Cork” is promoted and given every opportunity to grow while sitting alongside the overall Cork brand which is #WeAreCork. That is achieved by us all working together – hotels, restaurants, licenced premises, visitor attractions, transportation providers, public services and the various business and enterprise stakeholders around the city and county.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Rising and escalating costs and finding the right employees are the key challenges facing our industry here in Ireland. We are finding that more and more there is a lack of accommodation for team members. We need people to come into this industry and the biggest thing that will give hotels a competitive advantage is if they have staff accommodation. Hotels used to provide this but few do so now.

Resorts like Ashford Castle and the Europe Resort have each invested over €3 million in the last few years to offer high-end staff accommodation in bespoke buildings on their resorts. The challenge in a city to do this is daunting when accommodation is in such demand. I have recently spoken to hospitality students and graduates outside of Ireland where I attended career briefings in Copenhagen, Sweden and at a Chicago hotel college, and there needs to be a lot of accommodation for people if they are to come to Ireland to work. By 2025, Ireland’s hotel industry will need 80,000 to 100,000 extra people and that’s on top of the 230,000 people already employed, and excluding spin-off industries.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

Trigon Hotels consists of three hotels in Cork City. The Cork International Hotel has 145 rooms, the Metropole Hotel has 108 rooms and Cork Airport Hotel has 81 rooms. Trigon are the only hotel group in Ireland to use the employee engagement tool, Workvivo and we find it hugely beneficial across the business as a work communication tool.  The group’s 270 staff are now more aware of activities across all three hotels and communicate regularly with one another. In addition Workvivo keeps everyone updated on all the activities at the hotels and what’s happening in Cork.

We did a pulse survey via Workvivo on a choice of two venues for our staff party last summer so in this way it gives the team a greater voice in the organisation. This is a way for the teams to know what’s happening in our other hotels and we also see it as moving with the times and adapting with new technology. In the past, we did everything through notice boards, but this is far more personal. People can go on as much or as little as they like and it’s a perfect engagement tool for an industry like ours where people are so important. It conformed to GDPR rules and ticked all the boxes really for us in terms of staff engagement, communication and motivation.

We hold monthly Team forum meetings with a member of each department and really act upon the feedback from our team We are very keen to develop everyone in our organisation and a number of the team are in further training courses that will benefit them personally as well as professionally.

We also have a health and wellbeing committee and plan in place as this is an area we are very mindful of and itsimportance to all our team members, this we feel is key to ongoing success and optimal engagement.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Keeping our cost base tight is important. I always keep an eye on the past, when people might have lost the run of themselves. Brexit is an obvious worry but our industry has proved itself resilient before and will do again when confronted with the challenge.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Artificial Intelligence usage for Revenue Management in particular to give guests what they want, when they want it. Virtual Reality for show arounds to give clients a true feel for what they will experience and augmented reality is also being used to enhance communication with guests.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Greater awareness of the opportunities available in the hospitality sector and the rapid-progression that’s available to people entering the industry.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

Yes there are certainly gaps but we as an organization have taken numerous measures to try and alleviate the issue as much as possible.

We are currently running Ireland’s only Trainee Management Development Programme of its kind with City and Guilds accreditation. We have recently seen the first set of participants graduate from the course with very impressive new skills and qualifications. Managers say participants are more confident, engaged and have the doors open to a whole new set of possibilities as a result of their training and studies.

Graduates have the opportunity to progress very quickly within the group once they complete this course, going from entry level jobs to General Managers and Sales Manager level. Training and development of our teams is key to the culture within Trigon Hotels and this programme is proving to be a vital fit into team growth and development across the three hotels. The introduction of benchmarking has also been a beneficial process measuring the performance of the company’s products, people, services and  processes to help us to be the best in industry and to identify internal opportunities for improvement.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

Our strategy was developed due to the severity of the climate change problem and because we are driven by a purpose to bring a greater awareness and understanding to this gigantic issue. The consequence of climate change is relevant to the banking sector and will have knock on implications both to the economy and to banking.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

We are so lucky here in Cork as there is plenty happening in this thriving city. Cork is in a great position as the only county in Ireland that sits on the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East. At Trigon Hotels we are seeing some really strong activity already this year. We are working closely with the brand which was established to promote Cork called ‘Pure Cork’ and it promotes all that Cork has to offer and there is no better way of doing that than everyone working together.

Cork is such a fantastic year-round destination and at summer it comes alive with concerts, festivals and its large selection of beaches. The city is buzzing with live and traditional music as it hosts an array of festivals while the county, with its stunning coastline in a haven for tourists and locals alike. Three restaurants in Cork were also recently awarded Michelin stars which is a huge boost to food tourism in the city and county.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

At Trigon Hotels we pride ourselves on attention to detail. We aim to exceed expectations 100% of the time, for our guests, staff and stakeholders. We do this through the passionate pursuit of perfection, which guides us in all that we do. Its seeing people leave our properties with a smile and want to return.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Keep your heart and mind open at all times…

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Last year was extremely busy with a range of events at our hotels such as the Cork Craft Show and Chocolate and Baking Weekend at the Cork International Hotel; The Cork Oyster & Seafood Festival and the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival at The Metropole Hotel and Cork Cheese Week at the Cork Airport Hotel. I am looking forward to more events and fun at our hotels this year. The Metropole Hotel winning Best Cork Hotel from the Cork Business Association.  Cork Airport Hotel winning a National Quality Employer Award and a finalist in the Gold Medal Awards for Best Business Hotel– are both highlights.

We also achieved success at the IHI Manager of the Year awards where we had 3 finalists and one overall winner – Lorraine Gavigan in the Food & Beverage category. To see our three properties in the top eight hotels on Trip Advisor is fantastic. We also hired Kathleen Linehan as our new Strategic Director Of Human Resources which will be an instrumental role for us for the coming years as we develop our teams and our employer brand. Just last week the iconic Metropole was re-graded to four Star status by Failte Ireland which is a huge boost and a credit to the Metropole team.

Q. What’s next for your company?

Turn the sod on The M Hotel – our new and exciting hotel brand in Cork City.  We also want to see the much needed Cork Events Centre happen. We will continue to invest in the development of our people which will always remain a key goal in order to help us to  drive standards forward to deliver quality at all levels and times.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

The figures are strong for Ireland and indeed Cork. As the Pure Cork brand ramps up we can expect to see Cork come on the radar for more people around the world. There is so much opportunity for us all. One thing that people living and working in Cork have in common is a belief and desire for Cork to thrive and be the best it can be. This is going to be a great year in Cork and I for one can’t wait for the exciting times ahead.

Brexit is an obvious worry but our industry has proved itself resilient before and will do again when confronted with the challenge.