Dylan Leon is Senior Guest Experience Manager at Adare Manor in Limerick. He talks to Hospitality Ireland about the ultimate guest experience.
Earlier this month, the Limerick establishment was awarded Best Resort in Europe for the second year in a row, at the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards.
In 2022, Adare Manor scored higher than any other European resort to win the coveted title of Best Resort in Europe, and also Best Resort in the World.
This year, Adare Manor also received a five-star rating in the Forbes Travel Guide.
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2023 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in October of 2023.
How did you become senior guest experience manager?
By chance, really.
My background had always been within food and beverage, but when the opportunity presented itself, last October, it felt like a natural progression for me. My previous experience in Adare Manor led me to believe that there was an opportunity to develop and build a really strong guest experience programme.
I was always told to expose myself to as many areas as possible across the hotel, so, with this in mind, I knew establishing Adare Manor’s guest experience team would be the right move for me.
What does your job entail?
I am responsible for all aspects of guest experience across the resort, which also includes the hotel’s switchboard and guest relations team, our butler programme, the guest experience team, and resort quality at present.
My day-to-day role changes daily, depending on which guests are in house. Some days I am busy with administrative tasks, while other days I am very active, liaising with guests across the resort.
My role is quite unique, in that no two days are ever the same.
What’s the hardest thing that you’ve been asked for?
That’s a difficult one. The majority of requests we receive are to assist guests with their itineraries when they are visiting Ireland. These are all quite standard, and our team has become accustomed to accommodating them.
The most difficult request I’ve received would probably be to arrange a private air charter for a guest in 30 minutes.
Generally, last-minute requests tend to be [the] hardest to accommodate, due to time restraints, but our team always endeavours to accommodate requests in whatever way we can.
Tell us about some of the most unusual requests that you’ve had.
That’s a tough one. In a previous hotel, certain guests would often request for a suite to be redecorated to suit their needs.
What do you see as the most important part of your role?
I think the most important part of my role is building long-term connections with our guests. We are fortunate that many of our guests return regularly – often annually, or sometimes multiple times during the year.
It is so important for our guests to feel welcome every time they stay at Adare Manor, and to have a real point of contact here at the hotel. We take great care in noting our guests’ preferences, to ensure each stay is seamless, and having that knowledge and understanding of our guests is key for the level of service we want to deliver.
I am lucky that we have so many incredible team members in the guest experience team that they make this easy.
Tell us about your background – where you grew up, studied, etc.
I grew up in Tallaght, in County Dublin. I am one of four siblings. I attended an all- Irish primary and secondary school in Tallaght, and then went on to TUD – formally DIT Cathal Brugha Street – to further my studies in hospitality and tourism management.
What first drew you to hospitality?
When finishing secondary school, I was unsure of what career options I would like to pursue, but had been leaning towards culinary arts or hospitality management.
During my first year at DIT, I attended an industry visit to the Merrion Hotel. I knew then that I was in the right line of study.
I have always had a passion for people and entrepreneurship, and hospitality has always provided the right balance of this for me.
When did you first realise that you wanted to do this professionally?
It was during that industry visit at the Merrion Hotel. I met my soon-to-be boss at the time, and the passion their team shared about the industry was so luring!
The best step I ever took in my professional life was changing from culinary arts to hospitality management
What was your first big role?
I have been very fortunate to have worked across four amazing properties since joining the industry almost seven years ago. I received most of my formal training in the Merrion Hotel, in Dublin, where I worked for almost three years.
During this time, I was privileged to have completed my professional work placement in the Dorchester Hotel in London. I then moved on to the Fitzwilliam Hotel, to work within the now Michelin-starred restaurant, Glovers Alley, where I undertook my first management position as restaurant reservations manager and then on to assistant restaurant manager
What was that like?
Glovers Alley was amazing. I was fortunate that I joined the restaurant during a massive period of change, so I really got to understand the inner workings of managing a restaurant.
I also received some excellent mentorship from Andy, the executive chef, and Keith, the restaurant GM, who really allowed me to grow within this role.
Fine-dining restaurants are very unique, particularly for someone who has only ever worked in a hotel background, so it was great to receive this cross-exposure.
Tell us about Adare Manor – the ethos, food, service, etc.
From the very beginning, Adare Manor was created to delight, astonish and impress.
This is reflected in a world-class team whose personalised, intimate service centres the guest at the heart of everything we do. Adare Manor is a place where even your first visit feels like a homecoming. It’s your drink the way you like it and the best seat by the fire. It’s the feeling that everything is possible and the knowledge that nothing is left to chance.
We offer a range of exceptional dining experiences across our various outlets – the Carriage House restaurant, the Gallery, the Oak Room, the Tack Room bar, the Drawing Room, in-room dining, and banquets.
Whatever you might be in the mood for, the talented and passionate culinary team at Adare Manor has perfected a menu to match.
What makes a great guest experience?
The people. Behind all of our beautiful rooms, high-tech facilities, exquisite food and beverage, magnificent grounds and gardens, I believe what truly makes a great guest experience is our team of people.
The passion our team show – not only for our product, but for each and every guest – is truly unparalleled. We are nothing without our incredible team.
What are the changing trends in hospitality – people’s expectations, new elements, etc.?
I believe people are looking for genuine experiences now more than ever. Covid and lockdown, globally, gave people a lot of time to reflect at home. Authentic, genuine experiences are what I believe people look for now.
Sustainability is also so important within our industry and can be a particular challenge for modern five-star luxury resorts and hotels. It is something that we work hard at constantly improving and will continue to be a key focus.
What are the major challenges at the moment?
Staffing is always a challenge, particularly at a luxury level. Attracting talent is tough already, but now, with so many competing properties, it can be difficult to secure and retain good talent.
What are the main opportunities?
There is a shortage of skilled hospitality workers in Ireland, and this is a great opportunity to highlight some great pilot apprenticeships and learning courses for people to step into the industry. For example, the Managers-In-Training programme at Adare Manor allows you to gain experience in every department across the hotel, including guest service, food and beverage, and administration.
This is a major benefit for people at the beginning of their careers, as having a wide understanding of hotel operations will enable you to become a great manager in the future.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I love travelling and try to visit new places as much as possible. With the nature of my role, we tend to do longer days on the property and take extended leave when possible. I love London and try to visit once a month, to see friends.
Alongside that, I travel home to Dublin quite a bit to see friends and family. I started running last November, which definitely helps break up the work week.
In Adare Manor, we have organised a football team – I usually join them for a game on Monday evenings.
Any other plans on the horizon for the next year or so?
In terms of my career, I would like to see myself progress further within the resort. I have an exciting opportunity to go travelling for three weeks in January, so I hope to visit Asia and see some sun!