Source: Peter Flanagan, Irish Independent.com
Thursday August 11 2011
PAUL Carty is a hotelier and it would be very difficult to mistake him for anything else. As he leads the Irish Independent through the Guinness Storehouse every piece of paper on the floor is picked, every picture slightly crooked on the wall is fixed and every door is held open.
You would think he owned the place. And, in a sense, he does.
As managing director of the Guinness Storehouse since it opened in 2000, Mr Carty runs Dublin’s biggest tourist attraction and is responsible in no small way for creating the ‘home of Guinness’.
The numbers associated with the Guinness Storehouse are difficult to comprehend. The venue attracts over a million customers a year, while more than half of all tourists who visit Dublin go to the Storehouse. Compare that to Madam Tussauds in London, which is comfortably the biggest attraction in the city. It gets around 28pc of all tourists to the city, a staggering number in itself.
Mr Carty is understandably proud of that figure, but he wants more out of the Storehouse. Visitors to the site fell 8pc two years ago, during the worst year for Irish tourism in memory, but it has recovered much of that ground since. Mr Carty does not forget the tough times.
“We’ve stayed ahead of the market, which has been a good performance over the last few years, especially given the state of the wider economy.
“For a lot of people planning to go to Dublin, visiting what they perceive to be the home of Guinness is very important to them. They want to see the Guinness factory, or where Guinness is made.
“They don’t necessarily say ‘I want to go to the Storehouse’, but they want to see where Guinness comes from. Our research has shown that nearly a third of people who visit Dublin planned to come here before they left home so that sort of brand penetration is very satisfying,” he says.
Even so, Mr Carty wants to push on, and a redevelopment of the Storehouse is key to his plans. Parent company Diageo is pumping €2m into the site as part of a refocusing on food and emphasising that a trip to St James’s Gate isn’t just about drink.
The development sees a complete redevelopment of the fifth floor at the Storehouse, with renovated bars and restaurants complete with what the company calls “an authentic Irish bar and 18th-century inspired Brewers Dining Hall”.
Quite what an inauthentic Irish bar would look like is an open question, but there is no doubting the work and investment that has gone into the renovations.
The Storehouse currently attracts around 80,000 Irish people through its doors each year and Mr Carty hopes to increase that number.
Locals can’t walk into the building to get their lunch without paying the €14 admission at the moment, but he hopes to open the restaurants to nearby businesses through a loyalty card scheme — something which most workers would probably welcome.
Talking about the positive developments involving his business is where Mr Carty is most comfortable, but Diageo and Guinness have not experienced universal success in the Irish market in recent months.
The Irish drinks market has fallen off a cliff in the last few years, and is down 15pc since 2006. Inevitably, many of Diageo’s marquee products here, including Guinness, have taken a hit on their bottom line.
In March the president of Diageo Europe, Andrew Morgan, was brutally honest when discussing the problems with the Irish business currently.
Describing Ireland as a “declining economy”, Morgan announced a pullback of advertising and marketing in Ireland.
“Consumers are just not there responding to the marketing that you do. Even if they love your advertising, (people are) not out there buying the product,” he told investors at the time.
The upshot of that pull-back was an announcement that Diageo was looking for €5m in savings at its Irish marketing business. That equates to 80 or so jobs by most estimates.
In isolation, people could not really complain about that. Given the environment today, 80 job losses, while awful for those involved, is not a huge number.
The problem was that Diageo announced these cuts the day after US president Barack Obama had been quaffing Guinness in a pub in Moneygall, Co Offaly, and only a week after the queen had studied a pint closely in the Gravity Bar at the Storehouse — publicity estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of euro to Guinness.
From a public relations perspective, the timing could not have been worse for Guinness and Mr Carty. while clearly not wanting to be drawn on the subject, he does at least acknowledge the difficulty the announcement created for morale in Dublin.
“That’s a separate matter to what we do here. there was huge euphoria following the queen’s visit here and Obama so I would have preferred if that [the announcement] didn’t happen to be quite honest.
“Ireland needed a good news story at the time so I would have preferred if it didn’t happen,” he says.
Mr Carty’s diplomatic skills come in handy at times like this, and these skills are very well honed after a career in the hospitality industry.
Before joining Guinness 11 years ago, Carty spent 25 years in hotels, and was general manager at a number of hotels run by the French group, Le Meridien. Most of those hotels were in Asia, and his observations on the way of doing business in that part of the world should be especially relevant for exporters looking to expand beyond the traditional markets of the US and Europe.
“In Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, meetings began with your opposites spending a huge amount of time getting to know you before starting the formal meeting. They consider it an insult if you don’t enter into ‘small talk’ with them.
“Then when I went to China, my backside had barely hit the chair before I was being asked quite complex questions.
“There it would be insulting to try to make small talk. You really have to know the market you’re aiming for.”
In short, do your homework on your new market.
By the end of the year, the 54-year-old executive will have spent more than a decade in the same job and although he is quick to emphasise that he is very happy in his current position, there must be fires of ambition still burning inside him. Does he see himself moving on, or will this be his last day-to-day job?
“I have no plans to move on, but I would like to see us pass 1.2 million visitors and complete the first year of our capital expenditure plan before I start thinking about moving on.
“To top 1.2 million would be a great achievement and the building was only designed to hold 1.2 million visitors per annum, meaning an expansion of the floor space by then would be badly needed.
“It’s been a tremendous time so far, and with the redevelopment in progress, it could be some time before I look to move on.”