Stephen Belton is the Managing Director of the luxurious and romantic Garryvoe Hotel and the scenic and relaxing The Bayview at Ballycotton. Stephen’s career in hospitality seemed inevitable from a young age but his ability to refurbish and rejuvenate hospitality gems from times past was unforeseen then and his results have been astounding.
Tell us about your hospitality background?
I was born in Dublin. My mother trained in Cathal Brugha Street – Dublin College of Catering – in Hotel Management in the fifties and I suppose I followed suit. I began working in the Clarence Hotel in Dublin when I was 16 and still in school. I worked in two other restaurants before my Leaving Cert. I began studying a degree in Hotel Management in Cathal Brugha Street when I left school. During my college years I worked in London and for Patrick Guilbaud Restaurant in Dublin. That is where the seed was planted for the great things to come, although I never thought I would end up in Cork.
One of my placements in college was in the Park Hotel Kenmare with Francis Brennan. I began there as a trainee and left there as Deputy Manager, six years later.
From there I was approached by a group of Cork business people to open the Baltimore Harbour Hotel. I was nervous to take this on, as I was only 25 but went for it nonetheless. I had met my wife Joan in Kenmare, where she was working as Front Office Manager in Sheen Falls Hotel at the time. She came with me to Baltimore and we reopened the hotel for the consortium.
Next stop was beautiful Ballycotton where Joan and I met John and Carmel O’Brien. They had just rebuilt the Bayview and wanted to bring it from three-stars to four-stars, so off we went. We successfully achieved this in 1997.
In the year 2000, John spoke to his son Michael and I about redeveloping their sister hotel,the Garryvoe, and after developing an extensive business plan and achieving funding from the AIB, we began construction in 2001, bringing the Hotel from a 17-bedroom, two-star hotel to an 84-bedroom, four-star with two ballrooms, five bars, four business suites, health club and our Samphire Restaurant and Cocktail Bar.
The hotel has completely evolved since then. We now specialise and have won many awards for weddings. We also cater for couples and family getaways with the stunning beach right on our doorstep. The views from the hotel are stunning and the addition of the leisure centre not only provides an added extra for guests but also for the community.
How do you start your day?
I get up at around 7:30am, let Oscar our doggie out and have tea and a Weetabix. The house is a busy one with four women!
How do you end your day?
Glass of wine, legs up and bit of television – not every day! My day is always quite full and I am always on the go, so there is nothing more satisfying that just relaxing before bed.
Are you part of a hotel group or an independent hotel?
Very independent hotel. This is something we pride ourselves on. It means that each guest gets the service the East Cork way. It also means that we are a little different. We can then do events and promotion of the hotel our way. That is integral to our success.
When did you take over the properties?
In 2000 and I have never looked back!
Tell us about the history of the hotels?
There was always some sort of hospitality establishment in Garryvoe, from a tea shop in the early 1900s, to a boarding house around the war years, to a hotel in the early sixties. The O’Brien family purchased the Garryvoe in 1963 and began their journey from farming to hotelkeeping. Over the next 30 years they built up a reputation for great hospitality and great food. In the eighties they really began expanding and built a new ballroom to cater for dinner dances, socials and indeed weddings and started the local tradition of getting married in Garryvoe.
In 2000 we started exploring, extending the hotel from 17 bedrooms to what is today. It continued the journey of hotelkeeping and still holding onto basic beautiful Irish genuine hospitality.
Similar story in Ballycotton, although the original structure where Bayview sits today was a series of Coastguard houses. These were converted into a hotel after the first world war and began trading as a hotel then. The O’Brien Family purchased the original hotel in the late eighties and unfortunately the original structure could not be saved. So, began construction of what we know as the Bayview in 1991 and re-opened in 1993.
What was your mission at the outset?
To create a sustainable, profitable business with people, respect and innovation at the core. I think once your intentions are good in business and you work hard, then success follows.
How many employees do you have?
We have 150, many of which have been with us for many years. A testament to the team and indeed the wonderful customers that we look after!
How do you advertise your business?
Online and offline, using stories much more these days. Storytelling has revolutionised marketing for us. We also get a lot of referrals and it is amazing once someone has attended a wedding here, they tend to spread the word. Both hotels have something unique to offer.
To what do you attribute your success?
Hard work, staying power, never being happy, never staying still always re-developing. As a business you need to evolve and move with the times.
How do you best network?
Original Irish Hotels and Midleton and Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. I find the personal touch the best. Meeting people creates real connection.
How do you manage stress?
The same as how I end my day, also walking, and I have started a small bit of cycling. Planning helps to alleviate stress, so I do try to avoid it where I can.
What ignited your spark?
My father had his own printing business in Dublin and I saw how making sales and profit used to give him a spark and I loved that, and I suppose that gave me the appetite for business.
Tell me about your best and worst days at work?
Not achieving what I set out to do due to my own bad time management.
Best days are the opposite. Being a hotelier is like that. They say not to work with children and dogs because they are unpredictable; I think hotels are the same. No two days are the same but we work as a team and we work hard.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
Gardening, cycling and cooking for the girls. I have three beautiful daughters that need to be driven and collected and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am outnumbered at home.
Try to describe yourself in three words only?
Wacky, wonderful and sometimes painful.
What are your hidden inspiration sources?
My staff and my wife and daughters. There can be inspiration in everyday things but it stems from what is around you constantly. I think evolution is important in business and so finding inspiration everywhere is important. Sometimes a stimulus can come from the most unexpected things.
How do you generate innovative ideas?
Listening to people, walking by myself and listening to my three daughters and my wonderful wife. Sometimes ideas just happen and no matter how obscure they seem, I tend to follow through with them and somehow it always works out. We have done calving special offers; we attended the ploughing championships, so nothing is off limits. What we offer is quite special, so that is where the innovation stems from.
If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?
Tom Crean. I have read several books and it just seems his strength of character was profound and what he went through in his explorations and when he came home not boasting and talking about it fascinated me.
Ballycotton Bay, Castlemartyr, Cork
021 464 6718
The Bayview at Ballycotton
021 464 6746