Gareth Byrne Of Lough Erne Resort On His Journey

By Robert McHugh
Gareth Byrne Of Lough Erne Resort On His Journey

Robert McHugh speaks to Gareth Byrne, general manager of Lough Erne Resort, 'where proud traditions are woven together with true modern luxury.’

Lough Erne Resort is a five-star hotel, spa and golf resort surrounded by 600 acres of Enniskillen countryside.

The resort was acquired in 2015 by Lough Shore Road Limited, in a joint venture of US based Advantage Capital Holdings, Inc. and TRU Hotels and Resorts, LLC (who also serve as the Resort’s operators).

Lough Erne Resort recently completed an interior overhaul with 53 of its guest rooms and communal guest areas refurbished. Work to upgrade and refresh the resort’s 25 lodges is set to be complete by late May.

New Appointment

Gareth Byrne, a native of Newcastle, County Down, was recently appointed general manager of the resort to help progress this exciting new chapter.


He has 25 years experience within the hospitality industry and has worked in a range of leading luxury hotels including The Fitzwilliam Hotel, Belfast by Hotel Partners and The Kensington, London by the Doyle Collection. Most recently Byrne was general manager of the Duke of Richmond Hotel by Red Carnation Hotel Collection which also operates Ashford Castle.

Byrne recently spoke to Hospitality Ireland about his excitement in starting his new role at Lough Erne Resort and what his plans are for the future.

How are you settling into your new role so far?

I am loving it. It was a big moment for me coming back home to the Irish market.

It was a really hard move in a sense because I was enjoying my time with the Red Carnation Hotel Collection but the opportunity to be closer to home was a strong one.


I've seen more of my family in the last seven months versus the last seven years which is a big motivation for me.

Settling into Lough Erne Resort, the welcome could not have been better from the team. I have had a particularly strong welcome from the management and the locals alike. It's a very friendly place, the sense of community within the county is super strong and very much reminds me of what island life was like in Guernsey.

Every day, when I come up across the drawbridge on to the peninsula towards the main resort building, I feel like I have won the lottery. It is a phenomenal feeling.

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

I started off in the industry 25 years ago.


I am originally from Newcastle, County Down, which is a beautiful seaside resort town.

The opportunity to join the Burrendale Hotel and Country Club at the time for part-time work was a great opportunity. I had a notion that I wanted to work in hospitality from quite a young age and really enjoyed my time there. The training that they provided at an early stage in my career, really set the foundations for me to aspire to make a career out of it.

So from that point, I went on to study a hotel and tourism management degree with Ulster University. It was on their Portrush campus on the North Coast, which was an amazing setting. As a school of hospitality, it was quite a small campus. There was only 600 students there.

I was actually one of the last students to graduate from that campus before they re-located it back to Belfast. I wanted to work full-time and study full-time so I could graduate debt-free, which I achieved. But to do that, I fully relocated to the North Coast and worked with one of my lifelong mentors Ann Donaghy, who was group general manager of North Coast Hotels Ltd and is now director of HMS UK & Ireland.

The properties I worked between were the Ramada Hotel Portrush and the Bayview Hotel in Portballintrae, where I started my trainee food and beverage management program. After graduating, I worked my way through to a senior management position.


I wanted experience at a five-star level so I joined the team at the Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast for their opening in 2009. I spent three months in Rooms Division which covered reception, concierge and reservations.

I got itchy feet and the opportunity to join the food and beverage team at the Fitzwilliam in Belfast was not to be missed. I very rapidly progressed to food and beverage manager at the Fitzwilliam and stayed just shy of three years.

The opportunity to relocate to London came around, where I joined the Doyle Collection, in probably one of the most beautiful hotels in Kensington called the Kensington Hotel, where I became food and beverage manager.

Having spent a good tenure there, the opportunity to came around for one of their properties in Bristol where I was director of operations. It was a huge property and very vibrant city. I really enjoyed that.

I wanted to really test my financial acumen and when the opportunity came around a year later, I joined Dominvs team to be part of a company opening hotels. I jumped at that opportunity to work with Dominvs Group in opening Holiday Inn, Aberdeen Airport. Very shortly after this, they opened a Crowne Plaza in Aberdeen. It was great exposure with very different styles of hospitality with a focus on service that really helped me. I really grew my commercial acumen in that environment. But I missed the luxury hotel world and the opportunity to join Red Carnation Hotels as Deputy GM in Guernsey was a very exciting one.

I joined The Old Government House Hotel in Guernsey. Three years after that, I continued to grow with Red Carnation Hotels and became the general manager of the Duke of Richmond Hotel in Guernsey.

I only ever thought Guernsey was going to be a great opportunity for a couple of years and then I would go back to the city. But I really fell in love with island life. I felt very settled there and it reminded me very much of home.

The fact that I was able to grow my career and stay in Guernsey was a big win for me at the time. Fast forward to now, the opportunity to come back to Ireland and for such a great property like Lough Erne Resort, was one that I couldn't resist.

What first drew you to hospitality?

For some reason it was something that I've always wanted to do from a young age.

When my family were able to take us out for celebrations and treat us to different restaurants, I just really enjoyed that environment and wanted to give it a go.

Ironically, my parents thought it was just a phase that I would get bored of it after two or three months, but here we are 25 years on. We had the usual conversations discussing their concerns about unsocial hours and rates of pay and all the usual stigmas associated with hospitality.

We had those conversations as a family, but I was still determined to do it.

I didn't actually plan to go on and do a degree. When I was in sixth form in high school, one of my teachers said ‘do you realise there are options to do a degree and there are hospitality courses available?’ At that point, I hadn't even explored the opportunity but I was so pleased that they pointed me in that right direction and I haven't looked back since. It really just cemented my complete passion for what I do.

I suppose what draws me to hospitality is the diversity. There are so many opportunities to specialise in different arenas. It's not just about servicing the restaurants, servicing the bar or in the kitchen. There's so much more to it. It's the revenue management, the social media, marketing, PR, HR, finance, it’s such a broad industry. And I just love the fact that there's so many different aspects to it.

The longer I have spent within the industry, the more opportunities I have seen to progress.

What was your first big role?

That’s a difficult one. I have enjoyed every single role that I have worked in. I learned a lot at every stage of the way, but when I joined Red Carnation I felt that, gosh, I really am in the right role, in the right company, and ready to really take my career to the next level.

Who was your first mentor in hospitality?

Definitely Ann Donaghy, director of HMS UK & Ireland. Despite working with her for quite a long tenure, over four to five years, she has always been in the background, and available if I wanted to talk about where I was going and what opportunities were on the table. I reconnected with her last July over a coffee, which was an extended coffee over nearly three hours! So it was wonderful to catch up face to face.

More recently, Jonathan Raggett, CEO of Red Carnation Hotels. Over the last eight years, he has been a real inspiration to me. Without a doubt, I would not have achieved as much without his support and guidance.

Twenty five years on, I am excited to have found new mentors in Mark Ward and Jeff Mahan of TRU Hotels and Resorts who have chosen me for this role at Lough Erne Resort. Mark and Jeff have over 60 years of experience encompassing virtually all aspects of hotel and resort management, investment and development, so I am in good hands.

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

Well, I'm engaged quite heavily with the Northern Ireland Hotel Federation at the moment and previously with the Guernsey Hospitality Association.

It’s always great to network and communicate with industry peers. We talk about a lot of the challenges that we share and what you do to get around them.

One thing I would say is particularly with Ireland, the hospitality network is a very close one, and there's not too many challenges that one of your industry peers hasn't had either dealt with or is dealing with at the same time.

It's always good to share your successes with each other, and there's no real secrets to it either. I think it's one of the few industries that your industry peers are so forthcoming and willing to help.

In your experience, what are the most significant challenges that you have faced while working in the hospitality industry?

The biggest challenge right now is dealing with inflation across all areas of the business. Utilities is a massive challenge, along with food inflation. It's starting to settle now but if you look at now versus 2019 on what we are paying for food, there is no comparison. It's a real challenge for us.

The cost of payroll every year certainly makes it more difficult to do business. Thankfully, we are starting to see the people side of hospitality settle, but I think there's a lot more work to do. As leaders within industry, we have to ensure that that we inspire the next generation.

I am passionate about creating a flexible work environment. You can create a work-life balance and look after business needs at the same time. I think lessons need to be learned with having lost so many people in our industry during COVID. Career-focused people realised that there are other opportunities out there that do deliver flexibility and do deliver work-life balance. As leaders, we need to move towards providing that environment to ensure that we inspire the next generation to do what we do.

What are the main opportunities for the hospitality sector at present?

I think looking at STR stats, indications are that travel industries are set to grow-year-on year and Ireland as a destination is again projected to grow year-on-year.

We are starting to see the numbers settle, compared to where we were in 2019 and project even stronger growth into 2024, 2025 and beyond. So the biggest opportunities are with international travel coming into the country, particularly focused on the American and GB markets.

With those opportunities in growth, there are opportunities within industry for people progression. Collaboration is key as well. We are very fortunate to have such a wonderful product here at Lough Erne Resort with two championship golf courses and four different food and beverage outlets. We have the most amazing scenery and loads of activities on site from stand-up paddle to waterbiking.

Beyond that, there is a local community that survives and thrives on tourism as well. I am all about selling Enniskillen in County Fermanagh in an inventive manner, the many local providers and local retailers around. Selling the destination and supporting your local economy is the key to success.

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

I am most certainly a bit of a foodie, so if I have any opportunities when I'm off, particularly on holidays more so, I like to visit good restaurants. I particularly like London for dining.

Other than that, I've got two amazing little dogs and we love just exploring the Fermanagh countryside. I am out and about with them on my days off.

I like spending time with my family, my parents and my two nieces.

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

That's a big question. I just want to be successful in what I do. It is a challenging industry but a brilliant one to be in right now.

I suppose we have touched on it, if I could create a legacy, it would be on creating wellbeing within industry. I engage and work very closely with Ulster University, for example, in trying to invest in future hoteliers. It is about investing in the future hotelier and creating a professional environment for them to grow and develop within, ensuring that the parameters are in place. I think it's important that we as leaders manage the business while also looking after the wellbeing of teams and individuals.