The best business event experiences come from the heart – the hearts of the countless people that come together to make the experience possible. We are shining the spotlight on the industry veterans and leaders who continue to define the evolving face of business tourism today and their impressive careers.
Nestled on the shores of Lough Corrib, Ashford Castle is widely regarded as one of the best hotels in Ireland. With 83 uniquely decorated guest rooms, a state-of-the-art spa, and four spectacular dining venues to choose from, the luxurious five-star hotel caters to those looking for one-of-a-kind business tourism experiences.
Managed by a team of exceptional staff, Ashford Castle goes above and beyond to ensure guests experience the gold standard in hospitality – making it Ireland’s only Forbes Five-Star rated hotel. Here, a warm Irish welcome awaits everyone who walks through the doors.
Paula Carroll, Director of Sales and Marketing, is one such team member whose commitment to the industry and passion for the hotel has played a central role in building Ashford Castle's award-winning reputation. Speaking to Insider Travel Report about her long-standing career selling one of the most exclusive venues in Ireland, she describes how she arrived at the castle 34 years ago and why she never left.
When were you hired at Ashford Castle, and what did you do before that?
I initially worked in Europe as an accountant but all I wanted to do was promote my country. So, I successfully applied to the National Tourism Development Authority, Bord Fáilte (now Fáilte Ireland), and that’s how I got started.
While working for Bord Fáilte, I was headhunted by the Shelbourne Hotel and offered the role of Director of Sales and Marketing. I remember sitting with my late mum and dad in the Aisling restaurant in the hotel and telling them I had been offered a job there. My father said, “you have a good pensionable job where you are, you couldn’t possibly be considering taking it.” I think it was that terrifying word ‘pensionable’ that prompted me for the first time in my life to go against my father and accept the position!
A few years later, I received a call from Bill Dowling (Chairman of Ashford Castle at the time) who offered me the role of Director of Sales and Marketing at Ashford Castle in 1987.
What do you attribute your success at Ashford Castle to?
I have had the luxury of working with three general managers since joining Ashford Castle – Rory Murphy, Mark Nolan, and Niall Rochford. I consider myself blessed to have worked for three doyens in the hospitality industry. I’ve had nothing but encouragement from them. I’m not saying we always agree – if we didn’t have discourse, we wouldn’t get things done at the end of the day – but we have an extraordinary, healthy relationship.
How have attitudes changed about women in executive sales and marketing posts since you arrived at Ashford Castle?
When I started, I suppose I would have been considered a maverick because all of those positions were held by men. Now if you look at the industry you will see there is more of a balance which is healthy.
People often call you the spirit of Ashford Castle. How have you maintained your enthusiasm throughout your career?
The reason I’ve stayed for this length of time is that I fell in love with the people of Ashford. To this day, it is the passion and pride they take in their professional duties that I continue to support. They are the most amazing people.
Ashford Castle underwent a major restoration project in 2013. How has it helped your ability to sell and market it?
After a difficult period between 2008 and 2013, the owners of Ashford Castle decided to invest $100 million in a complete restoration. They replaced over 800 windows, introduced air conditioning, provided 83 of the highest standard bedrooms available on the Irish market, installed beautiful Murano chandeliers... They gave the hotel everything it deserved.
George V Dining Room at Ashford Castle
They also kept the entire team on while the hotel was closed because the owners understood that the people of Ashford are the heartbeat of the hotel.
How do you keep a fresh perspective on your job as Director of Sales and Marketing?
There have always been challenges in the industry, from foot and mouth disease to the collapse of Wall Street. The trajectory can change in a heartbeat, and that’s what I love. The ability to respond to those challenges.
What does the future hold for Ashford Castle?
There’s pent-up demand for travel and of course, Ashford Castle offers the perfect sanctuary for everybody across the 350-acre estate, so the future is rosy in my head.
What lies ahead for you and your career?
The owners of Ashford Castle have a new hotel coming on stream in Dublin called Hatch Hall, so I plan on sticking around for that.
You can watch the interview in full here.