by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Our work these days has caused us to reflect quite a bit on the way Ireland as a destination for Business Events and MICE has changed over the past couple of decades. Many of the things we wished for in the 1990s – better Transatlantic and European air access, better transportation links by air, rail and road to the regions, a Convention Centre in Dublin city, more international hotel brands – have indeed come to pass and have significantly sharpened our competitive advantage.
Dublin in the Premier League
But be careful what you wish for! If anything, these additions to our MICE infrastructure have, by now, helped move us up the destination rankings and we’re now playing in a different league. We now face all the challenges of a recently promoted championship side trying to compete week by week against the likes of Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal when, in truth, we have neither the brand profile nor the funds of these premiership behemoths.
In another blog post I’ll explore how Ireland United can be Leicester City, the fairytale team that was quoted at 5000 to 1 at the start of the 2015 – 2016 season to win the prmier league – and did so! This post, instead, is a paean to the “new Dublin” and the extraordinary evolution that has taken place here in a relatively short time.
The work we’ve been doing at EPIC, the Irish Emigration museum, has brought us frequently into the Docklands area and there’s definitely a vibrancy and buzz about the place again. The grim skeleton of the unfinished Anglo-Irish Bank building, for 5 years a symbol of our shame, has been miraculous regenerated as the new HQ for the Central Bank, its interiors designed to facilitate “open communication … teamwork and interaction at every level” (not the type of language generally associated with banking!)
It’s an iconic building that glitters like gold in the sun thanks to an outer layer of anodized aluminium triangular mesh panels. It’s also a precursor to a new raft of development in the area that includes Ballymore’s exciting mixed use project, Dublin Landings which, thank God, has a hotel amongst its real estate.
Discovering Dublin’s Docklands
Last week SITE Ireland, supported by the Dublin Convention Bureau, ran its summer social in the Docklands commencing at the chq Building with a visit to EPIC and criss crossing the river a few times before ending up high above Grand Canal Dock in the spectacular eyrie that is the rooftop bar of the delicious, dishy and delightful Marker Hotel. As befits an organisation committed to creativity, innovation and incentive travel excellence, the SITE event highlighted the new Dublin that has materialised east of the Custom House on both sides of the River.
Richard Phelan’s Dynamic Events, pioneers in Ireland in experiential learning and team building, put together an interactive treasure hunt on iPads commencing at EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum. It was fascinating to experience the extend of the development and change in the area with the evolving Customer House Quarter on one side of the river and Silicon Docks on the other.
Within a short stroll of each other you have the Neo-Classical magnificence of Gandon’s masterpiece, The Custom House and the bold contemporary angles of the dramatic Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. Rowan Gillespie’s Famine Memorial, the Emigration Museum and the 19th century Jeanie Johnson strike a poignant “lest we forget” chord while the red glowing angled light sticks on Grand Canal Square are an audacious statement of the ambition, confidence and positivity of the new Dublin.
From a meetings and events perspective the area is well served by 3, 4 and 5 star hotels with more development to come (and, while you’re at it, guys, can you please include a big box, 1000 room property. We badly need it!) Dalata is well represented there with The Gibson and the Clayton, Cardiff Lane, there’s a Hilton Garden Inn (the former Jury’s Inn, adding another 85 rooms before year’s end), The MHL – owned Spencer Hotel and there’s the 5 star Marker Hotel, part of the impressive portfolio of Tetrarch Hospitality.
Like many of the properties mentioned above, The Marker is not a new hotel. It straddles the years of austerity as construction was commenced at the height of the Celtic Tiger in 2005 but not finished until 2013 when Ireland was still an economic basket case. Since 2013 it has been finding its feet very tentatively, like a beautiful, new-born foal but now its all grown up and has the confident swagger of an fearless, ambitious young buck who sees nothing but boundless opportunity ahead of him.
Design-wise The Marker is a contemporary classic, its facade channeling the natural rock formations of the Burren or the Giant’s Causeway, two unique expressions of the Irish landscape. It forms one side of Grand Canal Square, its stone elevations juxtapositioning the steel and glass facade of Daniel Libeskind’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. The lobby is light filled and includes the Brassiere to one side and a spacious lobby bar on the other. There’s a terrace outside too, bringing you right into the life of the Square the way hotels do in other European capitals.
In January The Brasserie at The Marker staged a spectacular showcase dinner for the SITE Incentive Summit and truly set out its stall as a destination restaurant worthy of attention in its own right. Again when we ate there last week we got seamless service and flawless food – 5 star dining without the frenzy and fuss, a restaurant on the crest of a wave, solid and sure-footed, enjoying the thrill of the ride. The Brasserie offers an innovative “Bubble Claws” supper of lobster and champagne for €120 per couple.
Rooms at the The Marker combine contemporary minimalism with colour and warmth, the stark white walls off-set by deep blue carpets and yellow/green chairs. Guest room doors are set at an angle as you look down the corridor and the rooms themselves are configured with interesting angles. I was thrilled too to find a full nespresso coffee service tray concealed behind one of the doors.
There’s so much to discover in the environs of this magnificent hotel (- and my account here doesn’t linger at all on the stunning rooftop bar – ) and, to assist, there’s a couple of massively cool Van Moof bikes outside that’ll take you where you want to go. At a time when we need new incentive product to re-position our offering in a jaded marketplace it’s consoling to note the extent of the new opportunities that are out there.
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for the MICE sector.