Antun Simunovic Of Trim Castle Hotel On His Journey

By Robert McHugh
Antun Simunovic Of Trim Castle Hotel On His Journey

Robert McHugh speaks to Antun Simunovic, general manager of Trim Castle Hotel, a place where history meets modern elegance.

The four-star Trim Castle Hotel is located in the Boyne Valley, with striking views of Trim Castle. The property has 68 guest rooms and has invested in numerous upgrades recently, including the opening of a new all-day 58-seater dining destination with an outdoor terrace, BoAnn Café & Bistro.

Antun Simunovic, general manager of Trim Castle Hotel, speaks to Hospitality Ireland about future projects, what guests can look forward to this summer, and his new-found love for GAA football.

Please tell us about Trim Castle Hotel and what guests can look forward to this summer.

Trim Castle Hotel is in one of the best locations in the country, just a few steps from a twelfth-century castle – the largest Cambro-Norman castle in Ireland. The River Boyne is nearby, and you are just a few minutes’ drive from the Hill of Tara, an historical place. It is interesting to mention that my favourite movie of all time – Braveheart, with Mel Gibson – was filmed in Trim, near the castle.


Guests can look forward to our hospitality, different food options, spacious bedrooms, and a domestic, local atmosphere at our Bailey Bar, with live music every Friday and Saturday. Our latest addition is BoAnn Café & Bistro, recently opened with a modern design. It has breakfast, lunch and dinner options for all guests who want to see something fresh and different in this area.

Many refurbishment plans and actions are on the way, and we are all looking forward to seeing the hotel transformation, step by step. That is already happening. We are in the middle of the process, but there are many more things to come.

It sounds like you have been very busy.

That is the reason why I came over from London. Anthony Smiddy, the group GM, called me to join him because there are so many interesting projects at the property, and especially because they are building up a new group. Before, it was only the Johnstown Estate Hotel, in Enfield, but now there is already a second hotel in the group, and I hope there are more to come.

We are trying to build up the group with good service and friendly people. I was working for this company six years ago, in 2017-18. I was the conference-and-banqueting manager in Johnstown Estate, and I got a call to join them. I had very good vibes in the company and everything was positive, so I said, why not?


Please tell us about your background – where you grew up, studied, etc.

I was born and grew up in Dubrovnik, Croatia. It is a popular area for Irish tourists, the UK market, and the United States.

Dubrovnik is a place where, if you don’t have an apartment to rent or you are not a taxi driver, then you are probably working in a hotel or something related to tourism. It only has 30,000-40,000 people, but in the summer, that goes up – it gets so busy. It’s a seasonal town. From April to November, it is very busy, and then it slows down.

After primary school, I went to high school for economics, and then I studied at the University of Dubrovnik, where I graduated in tourism destination management.

What first drew you to hospitality?


Dubrovnik is definitely the most touristic town in Croatia, and the hospitality industry was my destiny.

What first drew me to the hospitality industry was my first job, as a bungee-jumping operator at Dubrovnik Bridge, where I came into contact with tourists from all over the world, and where I acquired my first communication skills in foreign languages, as well as responsibility for human life at the highest level.

After that, I worked at the Hotel Dubrovnik Palace as a porter and front-desk clerk. It is a five-star hotel with a large conference space, spa, and leisure centre, along with 308 bedrooms.

My career was leading me to different countries, different brands: Carlson Rezidor – Radisson Limerick – Marriott – Sheraton Athlone – and IHG – InterContinental London O2.

What was your first big role?


My first big role was when I was sales operations manager in Croatia, where I was responsible for organising all different types of events for two five-star hotels and four luxury villas, and catering at different attractive locations in Dubrovnik, such as the Lovrijenac Fortress – a Game of Thrones filming location – galleries, and other famous locations.

Who was your first mentor in hospitality?

I can’t say that I had an official mentor, but the person who gave me freedom to express my passion for the hospitality industry was Matea Brnin – at that time, general manager of the Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik.

Once she realised that I was really focused on what I was doing – that I was responsible and taking ownership, showing passion – she gave me freedom for the first time to work in my own way.

Of which industry networks have you been a part that have provided vital support and contributed to your career progression?

I think LinkedIn is a great platform if you are using it in the correct way. It helped me present myself as a professional in the hotel industry, but it also helped me show what I am working on.

What do you think are the main challenges in the industry at the moment?

Hiring and retaining staff. Many years ago, when I started in the industry, it was different. Young people were more motivated to start with hospitality and hotels, and to stay in the industry, and to progress. Today, it is not an easy job to keep young people. We are in a different era when it comes to hiring. We still have young talent who want to join and develop, but it is still challenging.

Rising costs is another problem, especially with gas and electricity. You have to mirror that in your prices slightly. People now have less money than they did for weekend stays in hotels or a nice meal. People have priorities, and I think they are now very careful with the budget that they have.

There has also been a change in guest expectations. It used to be the case that three people would ask for a special dish at a big event due to allergens or dietary requirements. In London, when I was working at an event, there were 40 different cases. It was not easy for the kitchen.

What do you think are the main opportunities for the sector at the moment?

I have worked at many different brands, and I think different and innovative loyalty programmes offer great opportunities. For example, with our group, we need to build up a brand where people can recognise us, and to build a loyalty programme where people feel recognised. If a guest is staying at the hotel for the third time, it is important that the staff recognise that loyalty.

Experiential travel and wellness is another opportunity. You need to see the difference between business travel and travel for leisure. Hotels need to profile themselves in that direction.

Data digitisation and improved payment systems is another opportunity. Guests should have an easy journey of payment and a fast checkout.

Hotels need to adapt to each guest’s personality and habits. It’s not just about focusing on the guest driving a BMW or Audi. There are other guests with different needs.

What do you like to do when you are not working?

I am a former semi-pro football player. When I realised I was not going to be Ronaldo, I decided to go into the hospitality industry!

I like going to important matches and watching the football on TV with friends. I love all sports in general. I like GAA – not so much hurling, but GAA football.

I travel a lot with my wife, Yuliya. We also like cycling and hiking, and Ireland is a perfect country for that. I love to read books.

What interested you about GAA football?

When I moved to Limerick, it was very popular at the hotel I worked with. The Mayo team stayed quite a lot. I got some tickets and went to see a game. I didn’t know too much about the sport, but when I went to the game, it was really fast and interesting.

Looking ahead, what are your career goals and aspirations, and how do you envision making a lasting impact on the hospitality sector?

I still have the same passion as I did at the very beginning of my career – even more.

With experience in three markets – Croatia, Ireland and the UK – I want to continue to grow, to develop myself to the highest-possible level, and to develop properties, companies and teams.

The last big project I was leading was a new ballroom construction and opening in London, at the InterContinental, together with a fine-dining restaurant and rooftop bar. After successfully completing that, I was happy to accept Anthony Smiddy’s invitation to participate in the Trim Castle Hotel project and development. I want to be involved in innovations, ideas, commitment, and passing on interest in the industry to new, younger generations.

For me, the hotel industry is something special. At the same time, it is difficult and challenging, but interesting, where no day is the same. The foundations on which I build the atmosphere in my workplace are always respect for colleagues, property and guests, and taking responsibility for my management team.

My advice for the younger generation is to work at the same level, even when no one is looking, because someone is always watching, sees and recognises.