posted by Colm Hanratty | 0 Comments
Meet Ronan Garvey, owner of Sleepzone Hostels – one of the most popular group of hostels in the west of Ireland with hostels in Galway, The Burren and Connemara. I caught up with Ronan to find out what’s his favourite restaurant in Galway, what he thinks makes a good hostel and how one guest was convinced she had a chip in her head that was put there by a US politician…
1. When did your hostel open?
2. What can guests expect from a stay there?
Friendliness, cleanliness, professionalism, good value and local knowledge.
3. Describe your role as hostel owner/manager to us.
It’s changed over the years from being very hands-on in all areas getting things set up in 2001, to concentrating on expanding the business to three locations between 2005 and 2007. In the last couple of recessionary years it’s gone back to being a more ‘bread and butter’ hands-on type of role.
4. How did you end up in this line of work? Had you backpacked/ travelled before?
Yes – I lived in Tokyo for three years in the 90s and travelled a bit in Asia.
5. What do you think is the key to running a successful hostel?
I would say No. 1 is Location. If you’re in a popular/busy destination you’ll be busy and therefore successful – e.g. London, Barcelona, Paris etc, etc. If you’re in a place no-one wants to visit – it may be that nothing you can do will make it a success. I think everyone expects the basics to be right so you have to differentiate somehow. One place I take inspiration from is the Hotel Congress in Tucson, Arizona where I’ve been many times. It’s a historic building, the hotel is of its locality, and doesn’t try to be something it’s not...it’s a budget hotel/hostel without all the mod cons – but has a lot of its own character in a very authentic way. That’s one thing I try to think about every year in our places. How can we give people the standards they want/expect, without being too ‘samey’. I think there is a bit of ‘sameiness’ in a lot of the big city hostels around Europe. So I think a bit of differentiation/authenticity is important and within the limitations of what’s possible we try to bring that to our three west of Ireland hostels in terms of the design/decor/ambience etc.
6. What’s the strangest/funniest thing that you’ve encountered with one of your guests?
Well there have been plenty of unprintable incidents! I think on any given day in a busy city hostel with hundreds of people around, statistically the chances are that one or two people will be a little ‘off’ - and sometimes completely nuts... Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes not so much. One American lady who stayed with us for a while a few years ago seemed very pleasant and normal until one day a few us were sitting in the kitchen. She explained to us with a straight face that then U.S. President Dick Cheney had installed a chip in her head and was tracking her movements. (Not that he wouldn’t I suppose....in case she’s reading this)
7. What’s your favourite bar in your city?
We recommend different places to different guests depending on what they’re looking for – type of music etc. For example, a lot of people want to see some traditional music while in Galway…as they should. We recommend ‘The Crane’ bar for that. If I myself have guests/friends in town, I like ‘Tigh Neachtain’ – a true authentic Irish pub.
8. What’s your favourite restaurant in your city?
I like the back room in Martine’s Quay St. Wine Bar, and the bohemian atmosphere in Ard Bia at Nimmo’s. Both do modern Irish cooking.
9. What’s your ‘top insider tip’ for your city?
Galway is a base – the real beauty lies in the countryside just outside. The West of Ireland around Connemara, the Aran Islands and The Burren really is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. If people travelling to Ireland are going to make it as far as Galway, then they really need to take the time to see some of the beauty surrounding it.
10. What’s the favourite part of your job?
- Being my own boss/not having to answer to anybody else... - Our rural hostels in particular sometimes feel like microcosms of the world such is the eclectic mix of people staying. I like getting to know some of them and the people I’ve got to know well who come back with college and other groups every year. - Giving a good authentic service to our visitors – and making a positive economic contribution to our community.
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Andres Santamaria said