HE MAY have started out washing dishes in a hotel kitchen but Limerick man Niall O’Callaghan is now putting a shine on some of the country’s top visitor attractions.
As managing director of Shannon Heritage, he is responsible for the operation of eight tourist attractions and four evening entertainment venues across ten locations nationwide. These include Bunratty Castle, King John’s Castle, Malahide Castle and two standalone retail stores at Adare Heritage Centre and the Cliffs of Moher.
Probably more widely known for his role as IDA Mid West business development manager, the Adare native took up what he described as an irresistible offer to join the Shannon Group subsidiary a year ago.
Having worked for the previous 18 months promoting the Mid West to international interests, he was well aware that the wider perception of the Mid West was one of “a region on the way up”.
“Our reputation is growing and that’s something we should all take pride in,” he declares.
While he felt an enormous sense of achievement with the IDA, he describes the move to Shannon Heritage as “a classic case of an opportunity too good not to consider.
“The Shannon Group, under the leadership and vision of Matthew Thomas, is ambitious and looking to transform the space in which we operate.
“It’s not every job you get to park next to Ireland’s most famous Castle every morning, and walk to your office smelling the turf smoke from 19th century houses. It certainly stirs the soul.
“Helping drive regional growth, disrupting trends and being truly transformative meant that a move to Shannon Heritage was an easy decision for me.
“It is an incredibly dynamic business model. The buzz working in this fast paced environment is fantastic, change is constant and we are always thinking on our feet, trying to stay ahead of visitor expectations at every turn.
“The tourism industry in the Mid West, much like industry as a whole, is a dynamic, vibrant and vocal one.
Working on the executive management team of the Shannon Group is rewarding as it plays an integral role in the economic success of the Mid West. Four in every ten tourism jobs in the region depend on the Shannon Group and it impacts on more than 46,000 jobs in one way or another.
“It’s easy to be motivated contributing to the success of such an important entity where every day you can see the enormous impact on the working lives of family and friends.
“Shannon Heritage is a company immersed in the history of the Mid West. It was the first company to develop and run tourist attractions and evening entertainments in Ireland.”
It all began in 1963 with the operation of its first medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle.
Shannon Heritage, in all its incarnations, has been a market leader and innovator since that time.
“We have over 350 staff in the peak season and the major success of Bunratty Castle and Folk Park led to the rapid expansion of our visitor portfolio, including King John’s Castle and more recently the successful addition of three attractions in Dublin.
“The past year has been extremely busy for the company as we have accelerated our commercial and customer focus. Early in the year, we invested over €300,000 in the successful renovation of our retail store at the Cliffs of Moher, which welcomes more than a million customers a year.
Accelerating events strategy, adding Newbridge House to the attractions portfolio and extending Shannon Heritage’s Christmas experiences to more locations, were all part of the expansion strategy.
This was one of Shannon Group’s key successes as well as Bunratty Castle and Folk Park being voted as a top ten visitor attraction for the first time.
Shannon Heritage welcomed 900,000 visitors to our attractions in 2018 for the first time, a doubling of visitors since 2013.
“So overall, it was a busy year but one that we are pretty pleased about” he added.
“Our focus is on creating unforgettable visitor experiences with unparalleled customer service.
“People have always been central to the success of our company, and this will remain a pillar of our growth strategy. Currently, we are working with Fáilte Ireland on Customer Service Excellence training for all our staff.”
He said that there are a number of “exciting initiatives in the pipeline; one project in particular is the rejuvenation of Bunratty Castle of Folk Park to significantly enhance the visitor experience. One element in particular we believe is a world’s first, so the team are extremely excited.”
“However we are acutely aware that we are entering into an unprecedented period of uncertainty with Brexit and other macro-economic factors.
“This will, undoubtedly, provide us with unforeseen challenges. But much like we never lost hope when things weren’t going so well in this region ten years ago, now is not a time for us to get complacent.
“There are so many opportunities for this region, but the first mistake would be believing our own hype” he explained adding that all stakeholders need to work together.
“The biggest opportunities for the tourism sector in this region are twofold; attracting a larger share of the Wild Atlantic Way traffic and, increasing stay times for visitors. This will increase spend in our region and support further employment in Ireland’s largest indigenous sector.
“There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the team develop and achieve their goals. That collective success is a huge motivational factor.
And what advice would he give to someone staring out in their career.
“Focus on what you enjoy rather than what you think you should become, as that is what you will be naturally good at. There is a career in everything you are good at, once you put the work into it.
“And don’t fear failure, it’s the foundation of success.”