Home » ‘We are largely done in Ireland’ — Dalata targets UK and Europe for growth

‘We are largely done in Ireland’ — Dalata targets UK and Europe for growth

The CEO of the Dalata hotel group Dermot Crowley said it may acquire further hotels in Dublin, Cork, and Galway but was “largely done in Ireland” and now plans to more than double the number of hotel rooms it operates across the UK.

Speaking at the Cork Chamber’s Business Breakfast on Wednesday, Mr Crowley outlined the group’s rapid expansion in recent years and said it is also laying the groundwork for future growth in Europe.

Dalata runs the Clayton and Maldron brands operating 53 hotels across Ireland, the UK, and mainland Europe.

“We are largely done in Ireland. We will always look to add a hotel in Dublin to add to our market share to stay at that 17%, in Cork, as it grows, we would consider adding a hotel here.

“We don’t have a hotel in the centre of Galway so would look at something there but in terms of overall strategy in growing the company it lies outside Ireland at this stage, it’s in the UK,” he said.

And in Europe, we are laying the foundations for our next major growth strategy after we are finished in the UK.”

Founded in 2007 and listed as a PLC in 2014, Dalata is the country’s largest hotel group.

Mr Crowley, a UCC Commerce graduate, took over as CEO in 2021 and has continued the group’s expansion.

“We are targeting cities with a strong combination of corporate and leisure. You won’t see us going into leisure-only cities and you won’t see us going into corporate-only cities,” he said.

“In the UK, we have 3,500 rooms across 10 cities and another 830 in the pipeline. Beyond that, we believe there is an opportunity for a further 5,000 rooms.”

In Cork, Dalata operates the Clayton hotels on Lapp’s Quay and Silversprings and the Maldron hotels in Shandon and South Mall.

The basement of South Mall also houses the group’s Shared Services Division which employs a staff of 20 handling the hotels’ payments, payroll, and other services.

Speaking to business leaders, Mr Crowley said the group was focused on expansion but remained a people-focused firm. He said Dalata hotels operate a decentralised model with individual hotel management setting prices and they also operate the Dalata Academy and graduate programme for those following a career in hospitality.

He agreed that levels of pay needed to be increased across the hospitality sector as workers in the industry were significantly impacted by high inflation.

One of the challenges in our industry is that people are not paid enough. That is a strange thing for a CEO to say.

“People at lower levels of pay have struggled because of inflation in terms of energy and food. Our challenge, as a company, in simple terms, is to pay less people more as opposed to paying more people less.” 

He said they have achieved this through a range of innovations and cost-saving measures at their hotels. These include self-check-in systems and getting more people to book directly so they save on commissions.

Dalata even introduced cordless vacuum cleaners to save room cleaners the time it takes to plug in and out the devices and gave staff live access to room data to know when a guest has checked out so they can enter without knocking. 

Research focus

He said Dalata also places an increasing emphasis on research.

“When you are a smaller company you tend to go a lot on gut feel but as you get bigger, you really do have to get more and more research to understand what your customer wants. I always said the easiest way to waste money is to give what you think the customer wants but that they don’t want at all.”

“One of the first things I did when I took over as CEO was to separate our sales function from our marketing function because I feel they are fundamentally different functions.” Mr Crowley said Dalata uses a variety of data from online reviews and mystery shoppers to make decisions on the design of hotels, the dishes they serve, to where they advertise their hotels.

He concluded his speech by saying there has been a very strong recovery in corporate travel this year as workers continue the return to office-based work and while periods of high inflation were always a concern for the leisure market, domestic tourism in Ireland has remained “incredibly strong”.