Fergal Harte On The Kingsley Hotel's Recent Refurbishment

By Emily Hourican
Fergal Harte On The Kingsley Hotel's Recent Refurbishment

The Kingsley Hotel in Cork has had a significant refurbishment over the last 12 months. General manager Fergal Harte talks us through the changes.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2023 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in December of 2023.

Following on from a refurbishment of its spa in 2022, which included a brand-new look for the nine treatment rooms, creating a chic urban retreat, the Kingsley has continued the redesign into its public spaces, working with interior designer Sinéad Cassidy.

The designer chose to incorporate the history of the hotel’s original site – Cork’s Lee Baths – by using a number of framed photographs along the corridors to accompany a special painting that the Kingsley had commissioned from artist Oonagh Hurley for Fairbanks Restaurant, showing the baths’ diving board.

Throughout the hotel, guests will find the work of many artists and photographers, creating talking points for locals and visiting guests alike. The public spaces in the main reception area have gained additional seating, where food and beverages now be served. Strong botanical influences and water themes give a nod to the hotel’s setting on the river.


'Vibrant New Look'

There are show-stopping design features in the entrance, reception, Fairbanks Restaurant and the Deane- Woodward Suite. Textured metallic wallpaper sits alongside green corduroy- effect wall coverings, bringing a glamourous touch to the interior. Herringbone flooring and bespoke chairs from Irish suppliers and upholsterers create chic seating zones, while new carpets and rugs have updated the aesthetic of the entrance and reception.

“We are delighted with the vibrant new look of the Kingsley’s public spaces,” shares general manager Fergal Harte. “The chosen colours, soft furnishings, artwork and design features beautifully link our special location and history, while creating welcoming spaces that work for a busy city hotel. I’m looking forward to meeting locals and guests and hearing their feedback over the coming months.”

The investment in the Kingsley offers guests a stylish location for city breaks and luxury spa experiences, all on the doorstep of Cork City, while the brand-new and beautifully connected spaces are ideal for business meetings, socialising, and special occasions.

Tell us about the refurbishment.

Taking inspiration from the hotel’s riverside setting, on the banks of the River Lee, interior designer Sinéad Cassidy has updated Fairbanks Restaurant, the K Lounge, Fishers Bar, the Library and breakfast serving room, the main entrance – known as ‘the glass box’ – the reception lobby, and the Deane-Woodward Suite function room.


What was your goal with this?

We wanted to incorporate the fascinating history of the hotel’s original site – Cork’s old Lee Baths, which operated from 1934 until 1986 – and the designers have done a fantastic job. There are a number of archived framed photographs along the corridors, to accompany a very special painting that the Kingsley commissioned by renowned artist Oonagh Hurley, showing the diving board at the site of Cork’s old Lee Baths, at Fairbanks Restaurant.

Tell us about your own background – where you grew up, studied, etc.

I grew up near Trim, in Co. Meath. I studied hotel management through CERT’s Trainee Management Development Programme. It appealed to me at the time because it combined course work with on-the-job training. It was a four-year course, and I started it in 1991, in the Sligo Park Hotel, with the college element held at CERT’s headquarters on Amiens Street, in Dublin. I also spent a summer in the Sligo Park’s sister hotel at the time – the Kenmare Bay, in Co. Kerry.

What first drew you to hospitality?


I began waiting on tables and helping in the kitchen of a local hotel and restaurant around the age of 15. It was a steep learning curve at times, but, right from the start, I was intrigued by the mix of the organised chaos of the kitchen behind the scenes and the relaxed, calm atmosphere of the restaurant and other guest areas.

When did you first realise that you wanted to do this professionally?

It was during that time working for the local hotel and restaurant. I learned a lot in a short space of time and thoroughly enjoyed interacting with customers, staff and management. I also liked being given the responsibility of looking after my own section and the variety of dealing with different tasks and people. As a result, I began to think seriously about choosing hotel management as a career.

What was your first big role?

I was promoted to the role of events manager during my time in the Cumberland Hotel in London. It was the biggest hotel in the city at the time, and the meeting, conference and event spaces were huge.


What was that like?

Although it was stressful, it was a fantastic experience, dealing with bookers, delegates, and a large operations team from each event’s inception to completion. The role gave me access to the hotel’s senior management team, which not only gave me great insight into how successful hotels operate, but also allowed me to build relationships with people who have helped and advised me throughout my entire career.

When did you join the Kingsley?

I moved to the Kingsley in January 2014, in the role of general manager, and we reopened the hotel in July of that year.

How did you find that?

It was stressful in the early days! The hotel had been closed for five years, so there was huge interest in it locally, once we reopened. We were completely overrun at the start and really struggled, initially, to recover from that. To make a long story short, a superb effort from everyone involved – for which I’m eternally grateful! – turned it around, and the hotel has gone from strength to strength since.

Tell us about the Kingsley – the ethos, food, service, etc.

We place great emphasis on every part of our guests’ experience of the hotel, right from when they first interact with us – through staying here or using our non-residential facilities – and hopefully becoming loyal/return visitors for years to come. We believe every team member is critical to the success of this approach, and we work hard to ensure the Kingsley is an enjoyable and progressive place to work.

To facilitate this, we offer a wide variety of internal and external training opportunities for our team, and we put together a new workplace well-being committee, leading to enhanced well- being and increased productivity. Our chef, Tim Daly, has been with us for many years. He and his team produce wonderful food all day, every day. That culinary excellence and the consistency of it provides us with a great foundation to work from, in terms of our service standards and reputation.

What makes a great hotel?

The quality and expertise of the staff, service, facilities, cuisine, environmental awareness, connection to the local community and location are all obviously key factors, but, mostly, it just comes down to the experience of being there, from the guests’ perspective.

What are the changing trends in hospitality – people’s expectations, new elements, etc?

Sustainability and CSR – guests want to know that hotels are serious about their obligations and that they’re doing everything possible to reduce their carbon footprint, remove plastics where possible, reduce energy and food waste, and support local producers and suppliers; the incorporation of AI into hotels’ practices around revenue management, the booking process, guest concierge, CRM, etc.; health and wellness – guests want to know that hotels can give them access to facilities and food that help them to sustain a healthy lifestyle; authentic local experiences – guests want hotels to help them gain access to local attractions, tours and facilities that promote the local area’s history, identity, people and culture; and personalisation and technology – advance and mobile check-in services, digital keys, virtual concierges and robot technology in back- and front-of-house areas are becoming more prevalent already.

What are the major challenges at the moment?

Rising costs and inflationary pressures, the recruitment and retention of staff, Airbnb and student accommodation being used for tourist accommodation, and differentiating the hotel from the competitor set.

What are the main opportunities?

All of these challenges can be turned into opportunities if we can meet them head on and deal with them more effectively than our competition. As I mentioned, we’re constantly working hard to improve our employee offering. The early integration of new technology, including AI, can help us to streamline everything we do and improve the guest experience in the process. Focusing on health, well- being and holistic hospitality for our team and guests will also be key over the coming years.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I enjoy distance running, playing tennis, going to the gym, and hiking. I’ve also just started a new course in psychology in UCC.

Any other plans on the horizon for the next year or so?

We’re hoping to continue to upgrade our facilities in every area of the hotel and apartments, including the relaunch of our Springboard restaurant. We also have exciting plans for our spa, health club and bedrooms.!