A Day in the Life… Jonathan Topping, general manager of Clayton Hotel, Belfast
WHAT DOES YOUR CURRENT ROLE INVOLVE?
I’ve been in the role since the start of February 2018. It involves managing all aspects of a 170-bedroom 4* hotel with a full leisure club, swimming pool and fitness centre, as well as multiple meeting and events spaces.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?
I studied civil engineering at university in Edinburgh, and worked for Stakis Hotel in the term holidays and during summer holidays. When I finished university and returned home, I knew I didn’t want to be an engineer so was looking for opportunities. Stakis was purchased by Hilton and the HR manager at the time suggested I apply for their trainee manager role. The rest, as they say, is history and I have since worked for IHG, Radisson, Ramada and, most recently, I was general manager of Hastings’ Stormont Hotel.
WHAT ARE THE BEST/WORST PARTS OF YOUR JOB?
The best parts are dealing with guests who have had the best possible experience. The worst is when guests have not had a great experience. Fortunately, there is more of the former than the latter! Developing new products and services is another great part of the job. At Clayton Hotel Belfast, we have just undergone a £1.5m refurbishment programme upgrading 139 of our 170 bedrooms, and a new restaurant and bar facility. We are also actively promoting our Red Bean Roastery coffee brand, a bespoke brand designed specifically for Dalata Hotels which is currently being rolled out across the group.
WHAT DO YOU FIND MOST CHALLENGING ABOUT THE SECTOR?
Finding good people. There is a severe shortage of good people coming into the industry and that means recruitment and retention is challenging. We need to ensure that the career advice at schools and colleges reflects the positive changes and developments and actively encourages a career within our industry.
OUTLINE A TYPICAL DAY
Every day is different. My day usually starts with a walk around the property, meeting and greeting staff on duty and saying hello to guests. Breakfast is always busy so I usually spend some time talking with staff and guests. We have a morning meeting every day at 10.30am, where we review performance from the previous day, discuss forthcoming business and operational activities. Throughout the day, I will have scheduled meetings which range from internal meetings, show-rounds, meetings to drive our People Agenda, which is our focus on training and developing our people, or webinars and conference calls with the wider Dalata Hotel Group. I will spend some time checking bedrooms and touching base with the housekeeping team and I will also check in with our onsite health club and pool, Club Vitae to chat with the club manager and his team. If we have an event happening in the Olympic function rooms, I will ensure that service runs smoothly and will see every plate of food which leaves the kitchen.
PROUDEST MOMENT OF YOUR CAREER TO DATE
A highlight of my career to date was the visit of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste of Ireland, the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland at one of the hotels I managed. Co-ordinating the security, schedules and providing food and drinks to them all and their teams was challenging but extremely rewarding. I was delighted to receive a personal note from the Taoiseach (then Enda Kenny), thanking myself and my team for our professionalism.
BEST THING ABOUT BEING INVOLVED IN THE LOCAL SECTOR
Belfast is a small place which, for the hospitality and tourism industry, means everyone knows each other. There is great camaraderie amongst us all even though we are, at times, competitors. I’m very inspired and encouraged by the continual growth and development of Belfast as a top tourist destination and especially the growth of the hotel sector. Working with bodies such as Visit Belfast and Tourism Northern Ireland presents a fantastic opportunity to showcase Belfast to the world. Also being a member of the Institute of Hospitality has been a great benefit, especially in terms of networking and sharing industry experiences.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO TO UNWIND AWAY FROM WORK?
I am married with two young boys. The boys are obsessed with sports, particularly rugby and I really enjoy spending time throwing a rugby ball around with them. I also coach P4 mini rugby at Holywood RFC and get a lot out of watching the boys, who I started coaching at P1, grow and develop their skills.
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF NOT MANY PEOPLE MAY KNOW
Despite studying civil engineering at University, the hotel industry has always been in my blood – my grandfather owned a hotel in Bangor. I have lots of great memories, as a small boy, of running around the bedroom corridors playing hide and seek.
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