Cork’s top hoteliers and tourism providers celebrated the best of their industry in style at the recent annual Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) Cork branch Tourism Dinner.
The glitzy black-tie event, which took place in the Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa in Little Island, was attended by almost 450 tourism and hospitality professionals.
It celebrated the global landscape of the region’s tourism and hospitality sector through its theme Cork – A Global Village, and raised funds for the Chairman’s chosen charity, Cork Simon.
The much-coveted Tourism Industry Award, which is made annually to an individual to recognise their contribution to the region’s tourism industry, was presented on the evening.
This year’s award went to Mary Browne, founder of Mary Browne Associates tour promoters and President of Skal International, a global organisation of professional tourism leaders.
Mary started her career in the tourism industry in the mid-eighties as personal secretary to the general manager of the Metropole Hotel. In 1994, she set up Mary Browne Associates to market Irish hotels internationally. She then saw an opportunity to promote the Island of Ireland and sell what it had to offer to tour operators and wholesalers internationally.
In 2002, Mary founded MBA and Ireland’s Choice as her own handling agency. The company has grown from strength to strength since its foundation, generating €18.5 million worth of business to Ireland in the last eight years alone. The Munster region has benefitted to the tune of €6.6 million and Cork City and County alone received €1.8 million.
Throughout her career, Mary has worked tirelessly to promote Cork in every way she can. She spent 20 years on the organising committee of the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival and has been President of Skal International global tourism organisation since 2017. Her motto? “Fly to Cork, Sail to Cork – Just travel to Cork”.
Donna Hennessy of the Castlemartyr Resort was also recognised on the evening as the IHF Cork Branch Employee of the Year.
One of the highlights of the evening was hearing from the proprietors and chefs of two of Cork’s three new Michelin star restaurants, who took part in a Q&A with event host, Dave Mac from Red FM.
Rob Krawczyk of Chestnut, Ballydehob, and Robert Collender, owner of Mews, Baltimore shared their career stories and spoke about the positive impact of winning a Michelin star.
Rob Krawczyk, whose restaurant Chestnut was awarded a Michelin star within six months of opening, said: “We didn’t set out to win [a Michelin star]. We were aiming to do something that we were really passionate about and we worked really hard. We just did what we felt was right and that we wanted to do and yet, [the award] came fast, but it’s great!
“I think it’s very important that food is local and the best that you can get and we’re really fortunate that West Cork has some fantastic producers and suppliers. If you can start with good produce, that’s 70% to 80% of the work.”
Neil Grant, Chairman of the IHF Cork branch, congratulated all the award recipients and commented on the growth of the tourism and hospitality sector and in the region.
“Tonight’s theme – Cork – A Global Village – encapsulates all that’s phenomenal about Cork, recognising that Cork is the real capital of Ireland! This is our biggest tourism dinner ever. The event has grown from 200 guests in 2012 to 440 guests in five or six years. This dinner’s success has very much mirrored the growth in tourism nationally and shown the fortitude that has seen tourism be a key driver in the Irish economy from those dark days. Indeed the growth in the number of multinational companies and the need for our workforce to grow to keep up with the increased demand in our industry in this time has most certainly resulted in the creation of Cork as a global village!
“However, at a time when we face into Brexit – a complete unknown – our Government in their infinite wisdom has decided to jeopardise our industry at a crucial juncture by increasing the VAT for accommodation and food by 50% and in turn making us less competitive with our overseas competitors.
“Whilst there sounds like progress this past week on Brexit, we can take nothing for granted. Our Tánaiste seems confident on a deal, so we must have faith in him helping to deliver the best deal possible for Ireland.”
National President of the Irish Hotels Federation, Michael Lennon, was also in attendance at the gala event. He echoed Mr Grant’s comments criticising the Government increase in the tourism VAT rate to 13.5%, saying that in many cases, hoteliers would have no choice but to pick up the cost of the VAT increase and that for many, it may wipe out their margin altogether.
However, he praised the 450 members of the Cork branch of the IHF present at the event, saying it was the “talented and passionate people working within the industry, who every day strive to make our guests feel truly welcome”, that underpin the world-class hospitality offering we have today.
The event’s main sponsor was Kings Laundry, the nationwide hospitality industry laundry service, which last year opened a €12 million plant on a 3.5 acre Little Island site, creating almost 200 new jobs.
Michael Magner, General Manager of the Vienna Woods Hotel and chair of the event’s organising committee, said: “This year’s annual tourism dinner was bigger and better than ever. I’d like to thank all of our sponsors, as well as the management and staff at the Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, and all our organising committee for their commitment to making the event possible. It was a hugely successful event!”
Photos: Brian Lougheed Photography