*Paul Madden. Photograph: Arthur Ellis
Businesses will bounce back from COVID-19, the resilience gained by the economic recession over a decade ago has strengthened Paul Madden and The Temple Gate Hotel as they plot their recovery.
One third of The Temple Gate Hotels’ business for the entire year disappeared “in one full swoop” in March as their forced closure began. Owner of the Ennis hotel, Paul Madden said 70% of their business was lost for 2020 leading to an economic hit worth millions of euros. “Technically we still have a few bookings” for the end of September but these are contingent on overseas measures and Paul is not optimistic they will materialise.
Hotels in Clare were beginning to enter steady footing having regained solid ground following the downturn of 2008 prior to the pandemic. “We probably had 7 or 8 years that were horrendous around the recession, we were fortunate to be still open at the end of it. We had what I would call two relatively decent years which allowed us to employ people, reinvest in the property and when you feel like you like turn a corner albeit slightly this happens. From a financial point of view, this is absolutely horrendous, in terms of an absolute drop in business so quickly, this has been worse than the recession, everything gradually went away, this fell off a cliff”.
Tourism helped Ireland to recover then as the Ennis man outlined, it is why he is hopeful the hospitality industry will receive financial rescue packages from the new Government. He admitted they would be “absolutely goosed” without the temporary wage subsidy scheme. “I’m hoping 2021 sees us head back in the right direction but realistically it is probably going to be two to three years before we get back to the 2019 levels”.
Paul noted that the last recession “hardened me up from a business point of view” making him more understanding of how to overcome hard times. It offers him some solace that the town, county and country will recover. “We’re a very resilient bunch in Ireland, we take the hardship and we get on with it. Hard work isn’t something we are afraid of, if you have that ethos and are willing to put the hard graft in I think you have a chance, we will bounce back, there is no question, we’ve done very well in managing the pandemic but we need to get the economy going and I’m sure we will”.
As part of this recovery, the former Chair of Clare Tourism outlined that they have to find use of their hotel bedrooms. “The bedrock of the business in a hotel is the bedrooms, for us we envisaged that our local friends, loyal customers, people from Clare and Ennis will come and eat in our premises when they can do to spend locally, if we don’t get some business into our bedroom then our model doesn’t work efficiently, we have 70 bedrooms and that is the bread and butter”.
Staycations are the recommendation from leading health officials for 2020. Paul is confident the public will abide by this advice and he believes Co Clare can benefit. “Ennis has pretty much everything that a large urban centre would have without any of the negatives, we’re very close to the coastline and within Clare we’re fortunate that we have some of the most natural tourism attractions in the country, within thirty minutes of Ennis you access so many tourism landmarks that you just don’t have in other counties. Ennis is a perfect base”.
Availability of hotel rooms is naturally high, it will mean good but not necessarily cheap offers, the current manager of the Éire Óg senior footballers commented. “The reality is we cannot trade with loss-leaders, we can’t dump our prices as a result of this pandemic because that would be an absolute race to the bottom, that won’t do and won’t survive. We would normally have between 90 and 100 percent occupancy from the 1st of April to the 1st of November, as we stand now we’re sitting at somewhere between 10 and 15 percent for July and August”.
Uncertainty clouds the current economic climate but Madden has rolled up the sleeves and is determined The Temple Gate can bring back as many of their staff of 75 as possible. “We’re fortunate to have a very loyal and committed staff, if you don’t have that you have nothing in a hotel, we’re hoping to bring back as many as we can, to improve business steadily and continue to employ people locally”.