Rising to the challenge

Thirty-five-year-old Damian Gilvary has done remarkably well for someone who characterises his involvement in the hospitality trade as ‘accidental’.

Damian Gilvary was appointed in May last year as general manager of Lawrence Kenwright’s new George Best hotel in Belfast City Centre. It’s the current highpoint in a career that has seen Damian rise rapidly through the ranks from a housekeeping position at the Hilton hotel in Belfast:

‘I was 16 at the time and about to go on holiday,’ recalls Damian. ‘I wanted to make a few bob and my sister worked at the Hilton as part of the opening team. She got me a place cleaning rooms. I spent two-and-a-half years at that and I loved it.’

In conversation, Damian is full of enthusiasm for the trade and that’s reflected in the course his career has taken. From his place on the housekeeping team at the Hilton, he transferred to front-of-house duties and worked his way quickly from reception to guest relations manager and eventually to a role as assistant front of house manager, which had been his original goal. He was 18 at the time and within 18 months, he’d been promoted to manager.

‘I really thought I’d made it,’ jokes Damian.

It was at this point that Damian started winning broader recognition for his efforts, collecting Hilton’s internal front of house business development award. A couple of years after that, he won the Hilton customer service award for the UK and Ireland.

‘If you put the hard work in then it gets repaid, in my opinion,’ Damian told LCN recently. ‘At that time, hospitality had a bit of a name for long hours and low pay and to be honest, you really had to want to do it. I still say that to people today when we’re recruiting, if you want to succeed in this industry, then it’s important to have that enthusiasm for the job.’

A period in GB followed for Damian, working at the Hilton’s flagship Deansgate hotel in Greater Manchester. He was front of house manager there with a 41-strong team – three times the number he’d looked after in Belfast.

On his return to Belfast, he took a post at the Clayton on Ormeau Avenue, which was being refurbished at the time:

‘I’d never done this type of thing but I knew that I could and I really wanted the challenge,’ he says.

Then a Manchester contact set up a meeting between Damian and Lawrence Kenwright, owner of the Liverpool-based hotel group, Signature Living. That initial meeting went well and Damian was subsequently interviewed for the GM’s post at the firm’s new George Best-themed hotel in Belfast.

He was appointed to that position in the middle of last year and now has a team of 41 staff in place. That figure should rise to 100 in anticipation of the hotel’s opening, which is scheduled for early 2019.

The hotel, located at Donegall Square South, had been due to open in time for Christmas. A number of planning and liquor licensing issues caused the delay but Damian is confident that the new deadline will be met:

‘Everybody is talking about the George Best hotel now, there’s a real sense of anticipation and people can’t wait to see it open. In my time in Belfast, I’ve not seen that kind of excitement before,’ says Damian.

‘I would describe working for Signature Living as my dream job really, this is a contemporary hospitality style that’s not been seen in NI before and do far, we’re attracting and retaining a very high calibre team so I’m very excited to see this hotel open to the public…I wish I’d had the opportunity to do this a decade ago.’

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