Robert McHugh catches up with Eoghan Murphy, general manager of the Cork International Hotel, ‘ideally located near Cork’s biggest business hubs.’
It is difficult to keep up with the amount of awards and accolades that the Cork International Hotel has received in recent years.
The hotel received the 2022 Travellers’ Choice Award for consistently earning great reviews on the travel platform TripAdvisor, and it was named as part of the top 10% of hotels globally. The Cork International Hotel received almost 4,000 reviews on the international site and was rated as an ‘excellent’ place to relax, enjoy and return.
The Cork International Hotel has also been presented with the Best Stylish Wedding Venue Award from RSVP for two years in a row.
Much of the success of the hotel in recent years has been down to Eoghan Murphy, who joined it five years ago and became general manager thereof in 2022.
In an exclusive interview with Hospitality Ireland, Murphy discusses earning his stripes in Switzerland, how working with Trigon Hotels gave him the tools to unlock the potential of which he was unaware, and how meeting Darina Allen as a transition-year student greatly influenced his career path.
What was your first job in the hospitality industry, and how did that experience shape your passion and commitment to the field?
My first exposure to the hospitality industry came when I was in transition year and won a national cooking competition. Part of the prize was a course in the Ballymaloe Cookery School, where I met Darina Allen.
From there, I developed an interest in the industry and started thinking about it as a career. After a lot of research, I liked the idea of hotel management, and I went to the Shannon College of Hotel Management. It was really in the first year of the course that I was properly exposed to the different aspects of the industry, both in college and in the various hotels we worked in as casual staff.
To pick one event that really shaped my view would be the graduation ceremony in Shannon. We were a very small cog in the machine of the event, but to be part of it and to see the pride and passion of the graduates and their families really showcased what it was to be in hospitality.
From setting the rooms for the ceremony to serving the meal, every aspect was to perfection, and it really showcased the commitment required to execute a high-profile event. It has always stayed with me.
Who was your first mentor in hospitality, and how did his/her/their guidance influence your growth and development as a hospitality professional?
It is difficult to pick one mentor, as I have been very fortunate to be exposed to great managers and leaders throughout my career.
I remember a piece of advice I was told very early on was to learn something from everyone you work with. Sometimes it can be how to do things, or not to, but by looking at the people around you in the hotel, there are countless years of experience and experts in their fields. By looking at how they work and why they make certain decisions helped influence me and how I make decisions.
Also, by being challenged, and being open to be challenged, has helped me continually develop and push myself.
Can you elaborate on the factors that led you to decide on your career direction? Were there any influential individuals or experiences that encouraged you to take the route that you have taken?
To a certain degree, the early part of my career was mapped out through college. I went on placement in second year, and I wanted to go to Switzerland, to be exposed to what I considered service levels at the high end of the scale. The experience there for one year has stayed with me forever.
My final-year placement was in London, where I rotated through the different departments for a year, predominantly in F&B. I was certain I wanted to stay in this department, but at the end of the 12 months, an opportunity arose to become night manager. This presented a great opportunity for my first management position, but also another department to get skilled in. I did move back to F&B from there, as that was where my passion was, and I stayed on this trajectory for a number of years.
Another big opportunity came in London, and that was to do an opening of a new hotel, the Apex City of London property. Openings don’t happen a lot, and it was one I could not pass up. Again, the learning there has stayed with me.
Other big decisions were personal ones, which impacted my career and where I lived. I moved back to Ireland after meeting my wife, and I moved to Cork to settle down and raise our family, as we thought this was the best place for us. By working in hospitality, there are always options open to you, and I was never worried about getting a job, as I was confident in my ability and my knowledge, once I got an opportunity.
I have a fantastic network of friends and colleagues and peers, a wealth of knowledge and experience, and by being honest and open with them, they have been able to give good, sound advice and their honest opinions, when I have asked for it. By not being afraid to ask and take the advice given to me has helped me hugely as my career progressed.
Throughout your journey, could you walk us through the various roles that you have held in your career and the significant lessons that you have learned from each experience?
As I said, I spent a year in Switzerland, where I learned what five-star service was – it really was an elevated service, which has stayed with me throughout. My final training manager year in what was then Le Meridien Waldorf was hugely influential, in that I was exposed to the various departments throughout the hotel before becoming night manager at the age of 21.
The experience gave me the confidence to pursue this role, which previously I would not have followed. I moved back to F&B and held various positions in hotels in London.
The biggest learning I took from these roles was the pace at which things move. Trends in London moved quickly, and you had to be up to speed with them, as there [were] customer expectations that you had to fulfil. Attending trade shows and seeing what was the ‘next big thing’ was key to staying abreast of the ever-evolving trends.
I was very fortunate to hold the role of F&B manager of the Croke Park Hotel. This was my first role back in Ireland. At the time, the rugby and soccer matches were being played there while Lansdowne Road was being developed, so it was busy year round.
One of my best experiences there was, again, about customer perception and expectation. The hotel is a top four-star property and has a level of service needed to match the expectations for the guests. Even if there were 85,000 people next door on an All-Ireland Sunday, there could [be], and [were], people arriving the next day that had no idea of what had happened the previous day, but expected their experience to match their expectations.
I moved to Northern Ireland, where my wife is from, and worked as operations manager in [the] Armagh City Hotel. This was a property that was very much led by conference and event business, which was new to me and a very good learning curve.
Subsequently, I worked as director of operations in [the] Park Inn Belfast. This was the three-star branch of Radisson, and it was my first exposure to being fully accountable for a property. This hotel was back in a city and all about rooms, so I had to get to grips with a huge amount of information […] on the city, as well as competitors and brand standards for a large company.
All roads eventually led back to Cork, and after speaking with an old colleague and taking their advice, I started as general manager of Travelodge Cork, which was owned by Tifco. The Travelodge model was all about rooms and profitability. A lot of the functions were in the central office, so I was fully responsible for everything on site – purchasing, HR, rates.
The learning there was immense. Had I not taken that role, I do not think I would be where I am now, in Cork International Hotel, where I joined four years ago, as DGM before moving to GM nearly two years ago.
I was exposed to a whole new way of thinking and working. It sounds obvious now, but listening and learning and having a growth mindset has really opened doors and allowed me to develop, both personally and professionally. There are a range of leaders in the organisation who are always open to having a conversation and offering guidance where it is needed.
I have joined industry groups, which has allowed me further exposure, and last year I went back to college and completed the Aspire Complete Leader Programme, in conjunction with CETB – something that I would not have done before joining Trigon.
Trigon gave me the tools to unlock potential I was unaware of, but also gave the support to help me develop.
Of which industry networks have you been a part that have provided vital support and contributed to your career progression?
Up until I moved back to Cork, I was not part of any industry groups, but have since joined the IHF Cork branch and the IHI.
The Shannon Alumni is a great group, and I was one of the alumni that established the Cork chapter recently.
I would honestly say, though, that the hospitality industry itself is a huge network, and I have made fantastic connections throughout my career.
Moving home to Ireland, and then Cork, meant that I was in touch with friends and colleagues to get information on jobs and opportunities, as well as where to live and rent.
I feel that the hospitality network is very strong, and we are always keen to help each other and ‘someone always knows someone’, which can assist in getting the information that you need to make an informed decision – but you have to ask the question!
In your experience, what are the most significant challenges that you have faced while working in the hospitality industry, and how did you navigate through them?
Two things jump out: 9/11 and Covid. I was a young manager in London at the time of 9/11, a horrific event that had worldwide implications. The business in London collapsed overnight, and there were huge business decisions that had to be made at a high level.
At the time, I put my head down and worked and ensured that I was doing everything possible to keep myself employable and employed.
Covid was awful because we closed the doors of the hotel and did not know when they would reopen. As regulations changed, we adapted and were one of the fortunate properties to be open for essential travel. Going back to the culture and the growth mindset here in the hotel, we never stopped and kept doing something.
By remaining engaged with our customers and our teams throughout, we were in a good position when restrictions lifted and kept moving forward. This was one of the most positive things we did – we just kept moving forward. There [were] ever-changing restrictions, and no matter what was thrown at us, we just adjusted and moved forward again.
Looking ahead, what are your career goals and aspirations, and how do you envision making a lasting impact in the hospitality sector?
I am the general manager of a fantastic hotel, and I want to protect the special culture that we have and to enhance it wherever I can.
I want to keep moving forward in the hotel and to develop both myself and the property. I am not one for accolades, but if I was to leave an impact in the industry, I would hope that would be on the team that I work with, and seeing them develop and achieve their own goals and dreams.