Grand Central 23 Stories 18 – Interview with Caitriona Lavery, Hastings Hotels Group Sales Manager

Caitriona Lavery is the Group Sales Manager for Hastings Hotels and is responsible for selling each of the group’s seven properties, including Grand Central Hotel domestically and internationally. Here Caitriona gives us an overview of her role and her career to date.

Caitriona tell us a little bit about your career to date.

After leaving university I worked for JP Corry selling agricultural spare parts, before moving to work as a Professional Meetings Planner for Claire Faulkner at Project Planning International. From there I went to AV Browne to set up their events division and in 1997 I joined Hastings Hotels as Group Sales Manager. Over the last 20 years I have helped grow the international meetings and incentives business into Northern Ireland and Hastings Hotels alongside key stakeholders including Visit Belfast, Tourism NI, Tourism Ireland and Visit Derry.

What was your favourite subject at school? 

Geography because my teacher Mrs Wells in Assumption Grammar made the subject fun and interesting.

Did you go on to further/higher education, if so what did you study and where?

I studied psychology at Queens University Belfast and then completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Administration and Legal Studies at Ulster University.

How did you get into your area of work?

My interest in the hospitality industry started when I worked as a professional meetings planner. Over the years I have been fortunate to be involved in lots of high profile events –  I was the Project Director of the BAFTA Awards when they came to Belfast in 1994 and I helped arrange President Clinton’s visit to Belfast in 1995. In 1997 I took the conscious decision, rather than booking the venues for my clients’ I would use my experience to sell venues for events. For the last 20 years my role at Hastings Hotels has been to sell our seven properties locally, nationally and internationally. Each of the hotels which include the Europa, Stormont, Culloden Estate & Spa and the new Grand Central in Belfast, the majestic Slieve Donard Resort & Spa in Newcastle, Ballygally Castle on the beautiful Antrim Coast and the Everglades Hotel in Derry/Londonderry have all their own unique selling points and I work closely with our clients to ensure the successful delivery of their events.

Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?

I believe a relevant third level qualification is important as this helps to identify the skills and knowledge needed for the job. However, work experience goes hand in hand and in the role, I have been able to master new skills including negotiation, project planning, diplomacy and patience.

What does a typical day entail?  

There is no one typical day, every day is different and that is what I love. I travel a lot in my role and I never go to work without a passport in my bag as you never know where I could be by the end of the day. In the last six months I have visited Chicago, Toronto, London, Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava and St Louis to meet with customers and attend trade shows to sell our hotels and Northern Ireland as a destination. When I’m not travelling, my day includes meeting clients, showing organisations around our hotels, preparing new business proposals, catching up with the sales teams across the Hastings Hotels group and destination strategy meetings with stakeholders.

It’s a busy time for the group and we are very excited about next week’s opening of our seventh hotel, the Grand Central Hotel. I am proud to have played a part in securing the prestigious Hosts Global Forum, an influential Global Meetings and Incentive travel trade event for the city and the delegates attending will be the first guests to check-in to the Grand Central, Northern Ireland’s largest hotel.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?

The most rewarding aspect is working with people from across the world from every walk of life and industry– including education, government, medical, finance, technology, automotive and retail – we get such an insight into their work as the event is being planned. I’ve been involved in many high-profile events from their inception to delivery including Prince Harry and Meghan’s recent visit to Northern Ireland, Giro, MTV EMA Awards in 2011, the World Police and Fire Games and most recently the largest congress to come into Belfast – the Royal Congress of Nursing which I’m proud to say was something I’ve been working on bringing to the city for 15 years.

The major challenge we face is the increased competition from new hotel openings in the city, but I love the challenge and I am confident that our seven properties stand head and shoulders above the rest. Hastings Hotels are the leaders and drivers in the industry and being in this position allows us to deliver the very best of Northern Irish hospitality.

Why is what you do important? 

My role at Hastings Hotels allows me to deliver real economic results not only for the group, but for Northern Ireland. Hastings Hotels are attracting business and leisure guests from around the world and while they are here they are dining in restaurants, visiting tourist attractions and ultimately spending money across the province which helps sustain existing jobs and create new roles.  In this role I help ensure that the quality of the experience visitors receive is of the highest standard, helping to raise the profile of Belfast and Northern Ireland not only as a tourism destination but as a safe and happy place to live, work and invest.

If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do? 

I honestly can’t think of anything else I would rather do. I am hugely proud of what I have achieved both professionally and personally for Hastings Hotels and Northern Ireland. I was thrilled to receive the Tourism Hero Award at last month’s Northern Ireland Tourism Awards. This is in addition to the Special Recognition Award for Tourism to Northern Ireland I received from Tourism Ireland.   It is an honour to be a recipient of  such prestigious acknowledgements from my industry peers.

Describe your ideal day off.  

Other than spending quality time with my family, I love reading and am a big fan of Crime & detective novels. I love reading Lee Child, John Grisham and I’m currently reading Thirst by Norwegian novelist Joe Nesbo – with such a busy job, there’s nothing better than switching off with a good book.

And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?

Be passionate. I know everyone says it, but it is true – if you love your job then you’ll never work a day in your life. I have never dreaded a day going into work and if you can find a job that makes you feel like that then you’re very lucky.

With thank to the Belfast Telegraph for permission to reproduce this interview. This feature appeared in their print edition on Friday 15th June 2018.

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