Safety and security attract big spenders to Irish luxury hotels

Reputation as safe travel destination paying off as Irish hotels top Condé Nast list

The hotel industry has welcomed the strong showing of Irish hotels in Condé Nast's annual best hotels in the world, including Ballyfin in Co Laois which topped the list. This rising popularity of luxury Irish hotels is being attributed in part to Ireland's reputation as a safe travel destination, especially for high-spending individuals.

Ballyfin was named best hotel in the world on Wednesday by Condé Nast Traveller, while two other Irish establishments appeared in the world top 10: Waterford Castle at number seven and The Lodge at Ashford Castle, Co Mayo, at number nine. Another, Ashford Castle, appeared at number five in the best European resorts list.

Terror attacks over the past 12 months in major European cities including Paris, Brussels, Nice and Istanbul have made high net worth tourists wary; something that president of the Irish Hotels Federation Joe Dolan says has benefited the Irish tourism industry.

“Events in Europe, over which we have no control, have been fortuitous for us,” says Dolan. “However, we should only ever aspire to the highest standards, the highest classification system and benchmark ourselves against the highest international standards.”

This ability to provide privacy and security – along with Irish hospitality – has helped the three list-topping hotels. Ballyfin – where midweek B&B begins at €360 per person – hosted US celebrity couple Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, and their sizable security detail, on their 2014 honeymoon.

Waterford Castle, which is attracting large socialite weddings from the US, puts the increase in high-end business down to security, among other things. "People love the feeling of security and privacy on their own Irish island," said sales manager Bernadette Walsh. This sentiment is echoed by Niall Rochford, manager of Ashford Castle. "Ireland is deemed very safe and is performing strongly."

"There is an emerging market of discerning travellers who are well accustomed to the highest levels of five-star services with privacy and personalised attention," says Shane Leahy, of Ireland Chauffeur Travel, which specialises in luxury private guided touring in Ireland.

"They are increasingly seeking security but also the attention of the 'big house' epitomised in shows like Downton Abbey. These properties lavish attention without the intrusions from the outside world and modern life. Ballyfin embodies this ideal."

A number of other factors have contributed to this success for the Irish hotel industry. Transatlantic visitor numbers have been increasing steadily for the past number of years – up almost 14 per cent this year. Aer Lingus will operate two million seats from North America this year and two new routes are due to open next year, while Delta is adding a new Dublin-Boston service. Etihad has announced it will have two flights a day from Abu Dhabi next spring.

Investment in the industry is paying off with high rates and occupancy. Ballyfin opened during the recession and Ashford Castle’s owners ploughed more than €75 million into its recent restoration. And the retention of the 9 per cent VAT rate in Budget 2017 will allow hoteliers and tourism product providers to continue this period of investment.

Many more hotels are in the process of refreshing, refurbishing and adding new rooms and services for guests. Belmond began a new luxury sleeper train, the Grand Hibernian in Ireland in August. With trips costing from €3,160 for two days, up to €7,722 for six days, it is expected to bring more than 1,000 high-spending visitors to the country next year.

“This is wonderful news for the individual properties, the hotel industry and the Irish tourism offering,” says the Joe Dolan. “It is not a surprise, the industry has been investing in product, services and staff all along.”