‘I love hotel life . . . It’s important to give people a good welcome’
Kay Randles has seen a lot of change in 50 years in the hospitality business
“There’s been a huge change in the type of people coming,” says Kay Randles, owner of Dromhall Hotel, Killarney.
Kay Randles didn’t stick around to watch the demolition of the 58-bedroom hotel she’d opened with her husband, Neil, 35 years earlier. “I wasn’t there to see it,” she says. “I couldn’t bear it. I went away and came back a week later.”
Dromhall started life as an 18-room hotel built on a former hunting lodge in Killarney. It was fuelled by Randles’s dream of running a 20-room hotel, a curiously precise ambition that had been with her since she was a teenager. “I don’t know where it came from,” she says. “I’m from a farming background. But I went ahead and did hotel training at the Victoria hotel in Cork.”
After Cork, Randles moved to Killarney, where she met her husband and had six children. Neil established a garage business, in Killarney, but when the hunting lodge came up for sale, in 1964, Kay spotted a chance to fulfil her dream.
The couple invested £10,000, funded by a loan from AIB. “It was colossal money in those days,” says Randles. “But there were no strings attached. Not like these days.”
They opened Dromhall Hotel in 1964 and extended it in 1969 to add more bedrooms. In 1977, they extended again, adding bedrooms along with a new reception, bar and diningroom.
Randles decided the future lay in expansion and in 1992 reinvested in the business by purchasing an old rectory on the adjoining site, which became the four-star Randles Hotel.
By the mid-1990s she realised the original Dromhall Hotel, which had three stars, was operating in a flooded market.
She decided to upgrade to four stars. But the limitations of the existing structure meant that to keep the original building would require more investment than would ever be repaid.
Demolition took place in 1999, with the aim of replacing the old blocky, flat-roofed building with a more modern design. By June 2000, Dromhall Hotel was rebuilt, with four stars, 75 bedrooms and a €7 million investment.
There were other changes. Up until 1999, the hotel had opened for only six months a year due to lack of winter demand. In a changing market, opportunities from the new Killarney historic rally, a growing Christmas party market, more winter tour groups and pressure from the bank to increase turnover all contributed to a decision to keep the hotel open year-round.
This year it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
“There’s been a huge change in the type of people coming,” says Randles. “In the early days it was mostly English people coming by car or coach tour. Now we have international guests and a steady golfing business.”
The hotel was badly hit in 2010 by the fall-off in tour groups from the United States to Ireland. Susan Randles, one of four Randles children now holding senior positions in the hotel, says it was a good reminder that they should concentrate on attracting a mix of clientele.
“You have to be aware of what’s coming down the line. There’s a lot of talk about the Chinese and Indian markets. When times got tough, though, it was about minding the customers we have.
“Emerging markets are important but we try to keep a hand in the British, German and French markets.”
“We had seen hard times before. We chose to keep our head down and work through it. The past couple of years have been about getting through it but now we’re going to continue to grow the business and get the clients we want to get.”
Despite the ups and downs of hotel life, Kay Randles says she has never considered giving up. “Never. I just love hotel life. I’m proud of everything. It was my ambition to have a 20-room hotel and I’m quite happy.”
She says the secret is in the personal touch. “Our relationship with our guests and people is still the most important thing. It’s important to give people a good welcome.”