The Westin’s new GM, Joanne Dillon, is back in a five star environment and it suits her
How’s the new role going so far?
It’s great. The Westin is an amazing property and the team are fantastic. It’s also great to still be within the MHL Group. I’m just across the road from Trinity City Hotel where I held the role of GM before coming here, so it’s nice to be in the same vicinity.
How are bookings at The Westin?
We’re seeing a steady return of international guests, especially the US customer. Historically, American guests loved coming to Dublin and to the Westin in particular, so we’re slowly getting back there. We’ve missed seeing them around Dublin, as I’m sure lots of hotels have. I suppose it’s hard to know exactly where we stand until the end of the summer season, but I’m optimistic that we’ll get back to our 2018/2019 figures.
How is the domestic market performing?
Obviously over the last few years, domestic business was our only business. We received great support from domestic visitors and that business is still going strong. I think people discovered their own local hotels during Covid and fell in love with them again. We’ll see at the end of the summer whether or not people decide to go abroad after two years of being in the same country.
How did you get into the industry?
Like most, I started my hospitality life with a part-time job as a teenager. It became a passion. I saw how important the industry was to where I was from in Roscommon, to the people that it employed and the services it provided. I worked at the The Fairmount Southampton Bermuda for a time before returning to Ireland in 2012 and starting my career with the MHL Collection. Two years later, I took on my first GM role.
It sounds like there’s plenty of room for growth and development within the Collection
Absolutely. In just three years, I was given the opportunity of taking on two GM roles. When I was in Trinity City Hotel, I managed the full bedroom refurbishment as well as the expansion at the hotel. In terms of learning and growing, that was a great experience. Over the years I’ve watched the group grow, adding properties like The Westin, The Intercontinental, Powerscourt, the Morgan, the Spencer, to name just a few and it’s been great to be part of that journey. The Moxie coming on board was also fantastic; very few companies were able or willing to purchase or invest in properties over the last two years. I jumped at the chance of taking on the GM at The Westin. I’ve always loved and admired the hotel since it was bought by MHL in 2014. I was also keen to get back into the five star environment again.
What’s the difference between managing a four star and a five star hotel?
When you’re GM of any hotel, regardless of its rating, you definitely need a strong team around you and you must possess certain qualities to allow you to do the job to a high level. I think there’s a difference of expectation from guests when you’re talking about a four or a five star. Those expectations need to be exceeded in a five star hotel and attention to detail is crucial. Every experience has to be unique. Training is also really important, but that’s the same in every hotel.
Is it difficult to get staff?
There’s a significant recruitment challenges within the industry at the moment. For us, it means we have to invest heavily in training to ensure we maintain our five star standards. That’s something that MHL is committed to. It’s been tough to recruit and retain staff but I think we’re definitely turning a corner.
How are you managing with increased supplier and utility costs?
Increases in utility costs is certainly having a big impact. It’s a huge cost to absorb. A few years ago, we began to try and manage our energy usage more effectively from a sustainability perspective. As time goes on, I those initiatives that we’ve implemented will kick in properly and we’ll see some cost-savings. We’re also moving away from single use plastic bottles in our bathrooms and investing in bulk products, which is a good way of controlling costs but also helps the environment. When the two of those come together, it’s great thing.
What are your ambitions in your new role?
To continue to drive the hospitality industry in Dublin and to ensure that The Western retains its position as one of Ireland’s top hotels. Now more than ever, it’s so important to encourage people to join the hospitality industry and to show them it’s a fantastic place to work.
You’re the first female GM at The Westin. In your experience, are you seeing more women taking up GM roles?
Yes, I think so. I’m not the only female general manager within MHL. Allie McHugh, who was the GM at our Harbour property, has taken over from me in Trinity City Hotel and I took over the GM role there from a woman. Actually, up until Allie who’s from Sligo, there has only ever been three general managers at Trinity City and they’ve all been women from Roscommon! I think I’m currently the only five star female GM in Dublin. My thinking is that the best person for the job should get the role.
Last year the hotel reopened with a €500,000 lobby refurbishment. Are there any projects in the pipeline for 2022?
In 2019, we built on 19 additional bedrooms and then obviously last year, the lobby was refurbished. With the hotel closed, it was an ideal time to get that work done and it’s really transformed that part of the hotel. For now, we’re capitalising on the work that’s been completed over the past couple of years. Let me settle in first!
What’s your favourite dish on the menu at The Westin?
One of my favourite things at the moment is the afternoon tea. I got to try it about two weeks ago and it’s not just the amazing food that our Head Chef Stephen creates, it’s the setting itself. Sitting in the Atrium and enjoying afternoon tea is an event. It’s different to anywhere else where I’ve ever had the privilege of having afternoon tea.