Hotel Hub: Dobbins Inn Hotel, Carrickfergus
After an onerous restoration project over 2018-2019, Dobbins Inn Hotel is expecting to reap the rewards of its investment this year with increased interest from visitors eager to stay and see first-hand the rich history of the property.
Embarking on the project mid-2018, in conjunction with Carrickfergus Townscape Initiative and with part funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Mid & East Antrim Borough Council, the building was covered in scaffolding for close to a year.
“Business did suffer, and we saw a decline in walk-in trade over the summer months,” says Kirsty Fallis, operations manager and daughter of hotel owners, Maureen and Derek Fallis.
Due to the age of the building, complications arising throughout the works and red tape encountered along the way, the restoration took longer than expected.
Now completed, however, the heritage project sees the building restored to its original tower house façade dating back to 1567.
And 2019 also brought a surprise honour for Maureen and Derek, who received a Carrickfergus Lifetime Achievement award for their 40-plus years of business within the borough.
Looking ahead: “We have already began targeting new markets this year, focusing on our history and those markets that enjoy historic buildings and tours,” says Kirsty. “Refurbishment will continue on our bedrooms and public areas.”
Challenges, meanwhile, include a lack of support from Stormont for the hospitality sector and, “as with all businesses, this year we will see more increases to energy costs, wages and rates and these are never easy to absorb in a very competitive market,” she says.
“The main bug bear for our sector is the VAT rate; a reduction on this would be very welcome this year and beyond.
“We would also like to see government movement on licensing laws, and also a reduction on Air Passenger Duty would greatly assist all tourism businesses.”
HOTEL OPENED: Maureen and Derek Fallis took over the business in 1978; however, it started as a hotel in 1946.
OWNERSHIP/REFURBISHMENT HISTORY: Since 1978, when the bedrooms had shared bathrooms, there have been several redevelopment projects including the bar, restaurant and public areas in 1990; bedrooms in 2010; restaurant in 2016; and major investment in restoration of the external walls, roof and windows in 2019.
EMPLOYEES: 22 staff (four full-time and 18 part-time)
ROOM NUMBERS: 15
STAR RATING: 3
STYLE: Historic and quirky
MARKET POSITIONING: Historic building; a perfect location to visit all parts of Northern Ireland.
GUEST PROFILE: Foreign tourists, staycations and families.
USPs: History, its own ghost, the location and friendly staff.
FOOD & BEVERAGE: Bar lounge with open fire and 70-seater Landings Restaurant.