Andrew was born and reared on Inishbofin, an island off the West coast of Ireland, the Doonmore Hotel was his home from when his parents built it when he was just one year old. While he grew up in a hotel, he spent his early life working on his dad’s farm and fishing lobsters and crab and learning the ways of the sea like most of his friends and neighbors. Like so many other island children, he had to leave at the age of 12 to attend boarding school for his secondary education and subsequently went on to university to become a primary school teacher.
Andrew has led a very varied life, being a hotel manager now and previously a builder, a fisherman, a school principal as well as the lead singer with several Irish bands including a 4 year stint with the famous traditional group DeDannan and recording with several other artists as well as releasing a critically acclaimed solo album, Hell or High Water.
It is at home on Inishbofin that he is happiest apart from maybe sailing yachts as he is also a qualified yacht skipper and set up The Inishbofin Sailing Club in 2014, a great addition to the sustainable outdoor activities available on Inishbofin.
How do the experiences available to your guests provide a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of Inishbofin?
Being a family run business for over 46 years, we know every inch of this island and having 5 generations of the Murray family growing up on Inishbofin, we can give our guests a unique picture of the history, people and culture of the island. We are in a unique position to be able to advise our guests on where to go and what to do while visiting this magical island.
How has the experience of visiting Inishbofin changed for travelers over the years?
When my parents opened this hotel in 1969, the first hotel built on the island, it was the very beginning of the tourism trade as we know it today. It was very much a trip into the unknown, with little other tourist infrastructure, no public water supply, no electricity and only a very basic phone connection with the mainland. What drew the visitors was the natural beauty of the place and the ingratiating and welcoming local population. The friendliness of the locals and the breath taking scenery has not changed but now there are better ferry services, a full range of utility services, wifi, several places to stay and dine and organized outdoor activities. One can honestly say it has greatly improved from a visitor’s perspective without losing any of its charm or becoming too commercialized.
What is one hidden gem on the island that no visitor should miss, but most do?
There are several but probably the most unmissable is to walk or cycle the Westquarter loop, spending a little time en route on the stunning Trá Gheall beach, standing on the top of Dún Mór cliffs, spotting the seal colony near the Stags Rocks and searching for the beautiful Blow Holes that many people never find. For the fitter or more determined, the whole walk circumnavigates the highest hill on the island and there is an amazing panoramic view from the top, and it’s not really that high!
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider visiting Inishbofin and staying at the Doonmore Hotel?
I wish that every guest who is considering a first trip to Inishbofin knew that the Doonmore Hotel is the most westerly island hotel off the coast of the whole of Europe, it has been run by my family (Murrays) since it opened and it is the number 1 hotel on Trip Advisor in the whole county of Galway. Not bad for a little family run hotel built around the stone cottage my great grandfather built for his son, my grandfather, as a wedding gift.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
The exponential growth in outdoor activity/adventure based holidays, the very type of business that suits places like Inishbofin, bringing the type of visitors who appreciate what we have, how we do things and respect the landscape and the culture for what it is.
What sets Inishbofin apart from other islands off the West coast of Ireland?
Quite simply it has all and more of what the other islands have in terms of natural beauty but with a more diverse landscape, the people are the most open and the friendliest of all the islands and we have by far and away the best and most comprehensive variety of accommodation and food and beverage options of any island off the Irish coast.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation to Inishbofin?
Stay at least 2 nights, 3 nights is the ideal minimum. You do not want to be in a rush to ‘see everything’, that defeats the whole purpose of coming to Inishbofin. You need a day to wind down to the pace of island life and then take your time to ‘wander o’er hill and dale’ at your leisure.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow? Please explain how.
I don’t believe there is ever only ever only one strategy, it is always a mix. Firstly, consistency of a high level is the key to any successful hospitality business, building a strong relationship with your customers through a superior level of service. It may not happen overnight but then you shouldn’t get into this business with a short term view.
You must strive for excellence in every department, leave no stone unturned to make sure your guests really don’t want to leave and can’t wait to come back. Word of mouth is the oldest and still the best form of advertising and its modern day online counterparts will be neglected at your peril. The use of Facebook, Twitter etc. has been vital in building brand awareness but it is really important that you learn how to use them effectively so that what you post makes past customers yearn to be back and future customers want to become part of your story and it has to be kept current and consistent.
Turning, in our case, a geographical disadvantage into an advantage is one of the key elements to our success. Firstly, being on an island and secondly being at a 1 kilometer remove from the pier was definitely a disadvantage. However, with the increase in people wanting to get more exercise, discovering and promoting the fact that we are the most westerly hotel off the coast of Europe and seeking perfection in everything we do has all turned things in our favour. People are more than happy to walk or cycle to eat in our bar or restaurant because of the quality of the food and service that they have experienced before or heard about from those that have. None of that would have happened without really hard work, keeping our fingers on the pulse of the tourism trends, being ready to take advantage of new trends and thinking our way around any difficulties. Most disadvantages can be turned into an advantage but it won’t happen without the above mentioned hard work and planning.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
I have a habit of scrutinizing other hotels, pubs and eateries that I visit on my travels around the world, looking for the things that I really like or dislike as a customer. I then assimilate that into how I would like my customers to experience our hotel and see every guest as just like me when I am a guest in another establishment. I tend to spend my down time (The winter) doing a lot of thinking about these things. Hospitality is quite a simple business really but the key is service and we go all out to give the best service possible in this hotel.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
I have many instances of these types of reactions, several from guests who came looking for their ancestors, ancestral homes or their distant relations but that is too obvious a situation for an emotional reaction. I would say the best reaction I got this year when I brought a group of older people for a trip in my minibus to hear the now very rare bird, the corncrake (crex crex). These birds were at one stage all over the country but are now only found on some of the offshore islands. Their unique call was, to so many generations, the soundtrack to the summers of their youth, as it was mine. Not only did they get to hear several corncrakes but one actually walked to within a few feet of the bus and they were so utterly thrilled that it made their whole year, not just the few days on Inishbofin. It was great to be able to give them that opportunity to re-live a part of their youth.