CONOR O’LEARY, GENERAL MANAGER, THE GLENEAGLES HOTEL
After working in some of the world’s top resort hotels Conor O’Leary has arrived in Scotland to make his mark on The Gleneagles Hotel. With a multi-million-pound refurbishment to its meetings space coming soon, O’Leary sets out his vision to enhance the reputation of a Perthshire hotel and golfing destination famed for its quality and service.
Recent past: I was at the Grand Hyatt Dubai which is the flagship for the Grand Hyatt brand. It’s the largest F&B and conference operation for the group globally and hosts Dubai’s biggest convention centre as its meeting space, along with 14 outlets. I was Director of Food & Beverage there for three years before I arrived at Gleneagles in November last year. My role at Gleneagles is all aspects of the hotel’s operation, which is focused on the bars, restaurants, meetings and events space, plus of course guest interaction and service.
Before that: I was at a variety of hotels in London: the Hyatt Churchill and the Andaz, which was the Old Great Eastern hotel, both of which were quite meetings-based. Before that I was at the Ritz, The Langham and the Mandarin Oriental. I moved to London in 1999 so, overall, I’ve spent 18 years in this sector.
Industry: MICE is a huge and growing part of our business. We’ve had a long-standing reputation in the MICE industry, not only for the facilities, but for our range of meeting spaces, from our small, intimate spaces all the way to our Gleneagles arena which is a large, completely interchangeable arena within the estate. We’re able to cater for a variety of group sizes but always at that luxury end. We’ve been lucky enough to host a lot of meetings and incentive groups which come over from different parts of the world; we’re in the heart of Scotland’s countryside but still close to airports and the other important cities and historical areas. We believe there is a lot more MICE business coming to Scotland and we want to be leading the way, hence why we’re embarking on a multi-million-pound refurbishment programme of our meetings spaces in the coming months to enhance the quality of our product – so we can keep giving something new to the agencies which look to bring that business to us.
Vision: My strategic aim is that Gleneagles is seen as a leading resort not just in the UK but in Europe. We see our competition, particularly in the MICE market, as being against resorts in Switzerland, Italy, France and further afield and a few in the south-east of England. The strategy is to maintain and enhance our product to give more reasons for those bookers, conferences and incentives to come to us. Over and above the hotel stay, we call Gleneagles the ‘glorious playground’ because – whilst you might be here working – the number of pursuits, activities and opportunities outside a typical hotel stay are vast: whether it’s off-road driving, falconry, our gun dog school, horse-riding, shooting, golf, tennis, two Michelin-starred restaurant, brasseries and craft beer pubs, we have a vast array of interests over and above the meetings space and legendary service. We don’t want to win business on rates, we want to win it on experience.
Best moment: 2012 was a wonderful summer in London with the Jubilee and the Olympics. It was a different type of business to what we were used to but as a city with everything going on it was a wonderful time to be in London.
Is Scotland the Perfect Stage? I’ve been here for seven months and it’s an incredible place. It’s got the most beautiful natural environment as well as architecture, the food produce, the whisky, the history. It’s got so many facets that are attractive to the meetings and incentives market. It’s got a bit of everything and it’s an absolute charm to welcome people here and see their faces when they arrive. I think, if I’m honest, the tourism sector should be a little bit bolder and prouder of its facilities and product, and maybe shout a little bit louder about it. But I think Scotland is a lot more accessible now and routes have improved – particularly from the US and Europe. The structure and infrastructure is definitely there to deliver events and I think we should be a little bit bolder, because everything is there.