Rising Stars and Hospitality Heroes Recognised by Independent Hospitality Guide The Georgina Campbell Awards – Ireland’s Original Hospitality Awards!
Representatives of the very best in Irish hospitality gathered at Bord Bia in Dublin today, for the announcement of the 2017 Georgina Campbell Awards, associated with the respected Georgina Campbell’s Ireland independent hospitality guides, and Ireland’s most popular independent hospitality and travel website www.ireland-guide.com.
These are Ireland’s longest-running food and hospitality awards, and highly respected by the industry.
Every year Georgina Campbell and her team of experienced assessors comb the country’s hotels, country houses, guesthouses, restaurants, pubs, cafés and speciality food shops seeking out the best food and hospitality experiences for readers of The Guide (‘the glovebox bible’) and followers of the very successful website, www.ireland-guide.com.
Speaking about the ongoing search for excellence, Ms Campbell said, “Through our programme of anonymous assessment we’re always keeping a sharp eye out for those exceptional establishments which are right on top of their game and going the extra mile for customers.
Once again this year, we have found plenty of new ones worthy of recommendation, especially in urban areas, and it is always exciting to see newcomers to the hospitality industry who understand the importance of standards and want visitors – domestic and from abroad – to enjoy Irish food and hospitality at its best. What we seek is not perfection but real food and hospitality with real heart, and we’re finding it in clusters of excellence all over the country.
Commenting on the Awards, Georgina Campbell said, “We’ve had some especially good experiences in Northern Ireland again this year, and in areas like The Burren and the North-West, including Derry, where communities work together to promote quality and bring different elements of hospitality together.
Through food trails, for example, and competitive events such as the Restaurants Association of Ireland’s ‘Foodie Destinations’ initiative – which is helping a lot of communities to join their dots of excellence to create destinations with a strong message. It’s all part of a movement by top food professionals, associations and agencies, including the TASTE Council of Ireland and Failte Ireland among others, who are showing vision and leadership in working towards the development of Ireland as a ‘food tourism’ destination.
And, as an aside, despite the recent explosion of casual dining in all its variety (we did wonder about including a Best Food Truck Award…) there is no sign of fine dining disappearing – it’s certainly not the stuffy experience it used to be, but there are times when a special outing is what’s needed and our best classically trained chefs are well able to deliver superb contemporary ‘fine dining without the fuss’. ”
Of the 2016 season, Georgina Campbell said, “Despite the often dreary weather, we’ve enjoyed many good experiences this year (too many, by far, to recognise at these Awards), but there have also been far too many disappointments in all areas and all kinds of establishment. Following our awards last year, it was suggested that I ‘made bad things up to get free publicity’ but, as anyone who spends time on the road knows, bad experiences are inevitable, even when things are getting better overall.
The Irish food experience is certainly improving – largely thanks to dedication at grass roots level and the ever-increasing availability of diverse small production foods throughout the country – but, as has become usual over the last few years, our least satisfactory experiences have again tended to be in 4* and 5* hotels.
Higher prices mean higher expectations, of course, but the high level of dissatisfaction is often down to simple things that could easily be fixed at any level, plus a lack of hospitality (which often means lack of a host) and poor staff training.
On the all important subject of competitiveness, Ms Campbell said, “Our top restaurants offer exceptional value in comparison with equivalent experiences in other countries (which, ironically, may be partly down to food being unsustainably cheap), but hotel prices are rising again, especially in cities.
While this threatens our competitive edge, it is necessary in some cases, as poor maintenance was undermining our reputation as a quality destination.
Now, following years of stagnation, owners are again investing in overdue refurbishment. This is generally a very positive move but – while recognising that high end quality is needed here to match the best international properties – extreme luxe can sit uneasily in a world of displacement and deprivation.
And it is not necessarily what we do best – that is still down to the smaller, owner-managed properties with a true Irish feel to them. Either way, to get best value, customers can support Irish hotels and get best prices by booking directly and saving the huge (up to 20%) fees otherwise paid to online booking agencies; to make this happen, accommodation providers need to promote the value they offer more and ensure that online booking through their own sites can match the ease and speed of the competition.”
Of the many insights gained at a recent Failte Ireland Food Tourism event in County Meath, some research-based comments made by Erik Wolf, of the World Food Travel Association were especially interesting, indicating many areas of untapped potential in Ireland.
These included our unique breakfast offering – which has for years been a regular theme with me too and, to prove the point, our long established Irish Breakfast Awards will soon be getting bigger and better.
Also highlighted were certain types of food and hospitality experience, with authenticity the key – some of these are reflected in our Awards today as well.
More surprisingly, perhaps, in this online age, Mr Wolf has also established that print still has relevance in the travel sector – an encouraging independent endorsement of a gut feeling that is hard to argue, unless you are travelling in a mobile coverage-free zone, when that glovebox bible suddenly seems very handy after all.
Not that we should be too smug about that – the handsomely produced Good Hotel Guide (with which we have an informal partnership) has also been doing some research lately, and quickly learned that digital detox is the last thing on their readers’ minds when choosing where to stay.
So maybe, like the casual v fine dining debate, it’s just horses for courses. One thing is certain, there are many more people – Irish residents and visitors from all over the globe – now wanting to have the full on experience of real Irish food and hospitality so, however they find it, let’s make sure it’s real.
Unlike other predictable, commercially-led awards, the Georgina Campbell Awards always include some unexpected choices and out of the way surprises – and, said Ms Campbell, “Importantly, these awards are more than the sum of their parts as each selection is not just an accolade but illustrates a key point, so the collection as a whole gives a valuable snapshot of the best of Irish hospitality today, demonstrating its strengths and showing how good food and hospitality can lead the way forward to a better future for all.
In this connection, the Guide calls on the Government to retain the current VAT rates once again in the forthcoming budget in order to help this important sector to continue its recovery.”
Peter and Mary Ward, Country Choice, Nenagh, Co Tipperary (Georgina Campbell Award, in recognition of a special contribution to Irish food & hospitality); Harvey’s Point, Lough Eske, Co Donegal (Hotel of the Year); Good Things @ Dillon’s Corner, Skibbereen, Co Cork (Restaurant of the Year); Sebastien Masi, Pearl Brasserie, Dublin (Chef of the Year), and O’Dowds of Roundstone, Roundstone, Co Galway (Pub of the Year).
Ireland’s longest-running hospitality accolades, the Georgina Campbell Awards are completely independent. Unlike most other award schemes, they are not commercially driven and in no way affiliated with trade associations or marketing groups; there is no charge to establishments for recommendation or any element of the awards process.
It is this independence which has earned them special respect in the industry, and public trust. Accolades from a respected independent guide are not only a source of encouragement – and very good for winners’ business – but also set a benchmark for others in the industry who are determined to achieve a similar level of excellence.
Although most closely associated with good food, the Guide’s accommodation recommendations are equally respected; as outlined above, it should be noted that the Guide does not promote unregistered accommodation.
All Northern Ireland accommodation is registered and therefore suitable for consideration but, in the Republic, only registered (Failte Ireland Approved) accommodation is considered.
Georgina Campbell Guides are grateful to Bord Bia, sponsors of the “Just Ask!” Restaurant of the Year Award, who kindly hosted the event.