Lisa Toomey Of Ashford Castle On Her Hospitality Journey

By Emily Hourican
Lisa Toomey Of Ashford Castle On Her Hospitality Journey

Lisa Toomey is the dynamic new hotel manager of Ashford Castle. Here she talks us through the strategies and insights behind the castle’s continuing success.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in February of 2024.

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

I originate from the charming town of Bunratty, in County Clare, a community deeply intertwined with the vibrancy of tourism. My parents met at the Shannon Shamrock Hotel, so hospitality was ingrained in our family culture from the get-go. Even at home, we treated dinner gatherings with the same care and attention as grand banquets.

After completing a degree in business and marketing in Limerick, I joined the team at the Clarion Steamboat Quay, as an events coordinator. In 2007, I relocated to London, where I spent a decade honing my skills and expertise in the hospitality industry.


My tenure at Ashford Castle commenced in 2017, marking a pivotal chapter in my career. Initially appointed as the director of food and beverage, I later assumed the role of hotel manager. In my current capacity, I oversee the day-to-day operations of Ashford Castle, working closely with department heads to ensure the seamless delivery of exceptional service, in line with our esteemed Forbes five-star rating.

What first drew you to hospitality?

Hospitality, for me, is about creating memorable experiences and forging genuine connections.

The allure of making guests feel welcomed and providing them with unparalleled service is what initially drew me to this rewarding industry.

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


As a child, our family would often frequent the local hotel in Bunratty for Sunday lunches or to celebrate a family occasion. Whenever we visited, I was always so captivated by the bustling atmosphere and the magical way in which guests were made to feel welcome and valued. That’s where it all began, and my interest in hospitality and how it can create unforgettable moments grew from there.

In the early stages of my career, I worked at local establishments, fostering that warmth and care that people expect from a business engrained in the local community. As I transitioned to more renowned venues like the Connaught Hotel and Hyatt, that drive to delivering unparalleled service and develop genuine connections with guests continued to grow and still drives me today.

What was your first big role?

Before joining Ashford Castle, I held the position of director of food and beverage at the Connaught Hotel in London and previously served as the food and beverage manager at the Hyatt Regency. These roles provided invaluable lessons and experiences that laid the foundation for my subsequent roles, emphasising the importance of attention to detail, team management, and delivering top-tier service.

What was that like?


Working in high-profile establishments like the Connaught Hotel and the Hyatt Regency was an enriching experience. It taught me the significance of operational excellence, customer satisfaction, and the art of creating seamless, memorable guest experiences.

When did you join Ashford Castle?

I joined the Ashford Castle family in 2017, as the director of food and beverage. In 2019, I was promoted to director of operations, before earning the title of hotel manager at Ashford Castle late last year.

How did you find that?

Joining the Ashford Castle family was nothing short of magical. Arriving at Ashford Estate for the first time, surrounded by the wonderful landscape and historic charm, was a truly awe- inspiring experience. The warm welcome from the team and the sense of history within the castle walls made me realise I was becoming a part of something truly special.


Tell us about Ashford Castle – the ethos, food, service, etc.

Ashford Castle is a unique place, where the past and the present blend together, making it an unforgettable stay, giving guests a chance to experience our wonderful local heritage while enjoying the best facilities and service that Ireland has to offer.

The amazing team at the castle care deeply about making every guest’s stay memorable. Each day at the castle is an opportunity to showcase the true essence of Irish charm and deliver outstanding service – it’s something we, as a team, are extremely passionate about.

Whether you prefer a formal or a relaxed dining experience, Ashford Castle has something for everyone. You can savour fine dining in the grandeur of the George V Dining Room, enjoy Irish cuisine in Cullen’s at the Cottage, or indulge in a refined afternoon tea in the graceful Connaught Room. There’s also Stanley’s American-style diner, for a laid- back bite, or the Dungeon grill, for a taste of history.

What kinds of innovations has the hotel embraced to maintain its status as one of Ireland’s premier destinations?

At Ashford Castle, we are always evolving, to ensure our guests get a first-class experience. Ashford Castle is an 800-year- old castle, but the hotel itself has been upgraded with the latest technology and modern amenities, to grant guests ultimate comfort during their stay.

The team at Ashford Castle are always brainstorming new offerings, so that we can stay one step ahead of our competitors and ensure our guests have everything they need for a memorable stay at their fingertips.

Late last year, we launched Éalú, a new state-of-the-art health-and-fitness centre for guests on the Ashford estate, which features a 15-metre swimming pool with a gym, functional fitness studio, and therapy room. The building was created to nurture the relationship between people and nature, and seamlessly brings the outside in, combining natural light with views of the beautiful estate grounds. This is just one example of innovation. We also have a state-of-the- art spa and cinema room at the castle, which are both key attractions for guests.

Tell us about the castle’s commitment to sustainability and responsible tourism, and how this reflects the evolving preferences of modern travellers.

At Ashford Castle, we are proud to champion important sustainability initiatives and are the first hotel in Ireland to achieve the GREENMark Plastic Smart Standard award. In 2010, we advanced our sustainability journey by joining Green Hospitality Ireland, and are honoured to still retain our gold standard.

As a proud member of the Travel Corporation (TTC), sustainability has been a core value of Ashford Castle’s parent company, the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, for many years. The TreadRight Foundation was established in 2008, as a uniting sustainability driver for the 40 brands under the TTC umbrella.

What makes a great hotel?

In my view, a great hotel is defined by the passion and dedication of its people. The teams that operate with care and commitment to providing top-notch service and hospitality are what truly set a hotel apart. At Ashford Castle, we are fortunate to have an exceptional team, many [members] of whom have dedicated over two decades to the estate, embodying the essence of Irish warmth and hospitality.

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

Health and well-being continues to be a growing trend in the hospitality sector. Consumers are more aware of their physical and mental health and well- being. As a result, hotels and restaurants are offering more health-centric options, such as spa facilities, fitness programmes, wellness menus, and green spaces.

Consumers are also more conscious of the environmental and social impact of their choices these days and expect hotels to share their values and act responsibly. At Ashford Castle, we take sustainability extremely seriously and use 100% green electricity, have eliminated all single-use plastic from the hotel, and compost raw veg peels from the kitchens, for use in the gardens. We also grow our own vegetables, where possible, and use local suppliers, to reduce the carbon footprint of our kitchen ingredients.

What are the major challenges at the moment?

Currently, rising energy, food and labour costs pose challenges for the hospitality industry. These increased operating costs coincide with consumers becoming more discerning about their spending, due to the overall cost of living. Additionally, a significant challenge in Ireland is the scarcity of affordable accommodation for hospitality staff. At Ashford Castle, we’ve addressed this by renting local accommodations and providing transportation for our staff.

What are the main opportunities?

Unique experiences are becoming more and more sought out within the hospitality sector. People are willing to pay that little bit more for something they consider ‘special’, be it a unique venue, personalised package, or immersive activity. Catering for different customer segments and needs are also key, such as wellness, adventure, culture and luxury.

Technology and AI is a huge opportunity for the hospitality industry to enhance customer satisfaction, optimise operations, and increase revenue. Hospitality businesses can use technology to provide online booking, contactless check-in, mobile payments, smart rooms, and virtual tours. They can also use data analytics, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing to improve their decision-making, marketing, and innovation.

What do you do when you’re not working?

Outside of work, my greatest joys revolve around my family. I’m a proud parent to two little ones: Annabel, who is four years old, and Arthur, who is one year old. My husband and I share a love for exploring the world, and I find immense pleasure in teaching our children about different cultures and experiences through our travels. It’s a wonderful balance of creating lasting family memories and instilling a sense of curiosity about the world in our children.

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

Looking ahead, I’m excited about the continual growth and enhancement of the guest experience at Ashford Castle. We have plans to further elevate our offerings, ensuring that each visit is more enchanting and memorable than the last. Our commitment to innovation and excellence will remain at the forefront, as we embrace new opportunities to set Ashford Castle apart as an unrivalled destination.