Belfast Telegraph

Culloden celebrates 20 years since becoming first five-star hotel in Northern Ireland

By Yvette Shapiro

Attention to detail bordering on the obsessive has helped Co Down's Culloden Hotel retain its five stars for 20 years. The hotel, overlooking Belfast Lough at Cultra, was granted its luxury status in January 1996.

Manager Adrian McNally admitted it was no easy job to maintain standards and win business in the face of stiff competition.

"Twenty years ago, the Culloden was the first five-star hotel and the first luxury spa destination in Northern Ireland - now, that's no longer the case," he said.

"There's a huge amount of daily, weekly and monthly monitoring to review and enhance the customer experience and stay one step ahead of the competition."

The Culloden regularly plays host to some of the biggest names in entertainment. U2, One Direction, Kylie Minogue and Dolly Parton have all stayed in its luxurious suites, and it is the official hotel of the Northern Ireland football team.

"The team is hugely important to us and they've been with us for some years," said Mr McNally. "There's a science behind their menus, and we have to be as disciplined as the players to help them prepare for their games."

Famous guests can be "extremely demanding", according to the manager, but many crave privacy and comfort, away from the prying eyes of fans and media.

"We attract the cream of the entrainment world and we treat them very well," said Mr McNally.

"But that also goes for regular guests who come here for a special occasion, like an anniversary. The ordinary guest from down the road can be as demanding as someone like Bono, and they get the same level of attention."

The Culloden's owner, Hastings Hotels, has spent at least £20m on the property over the past two decades. It has 105 bedrooms - one third of which are suites - 11 self-catering apartments, a spa, conference centre, banqueting suites and meeting rooms - all needed to stay competitive, said Mr McNally, who also managed Lough Erne Resort during the G8 conference.

"We're good at winning back lost business and retaining clients who like how we treat them," he added. "At banquets, I'm usually the one who puts the gravy on each plate as it leaves the kitchen so that I can have the final eye on it.

"Myself, the operations manager or the chef will try a portion of the meal at every event to ensure that the standard is always first-class. A lot of creativity and personal attention goes into everything - that's how you stay ahead. Staff training is fundamental. We employ up to 200 at peak times like summer."

Formally known as Culloden House, the property was built in 1867 as an official palace for the bishops of Down before being sold during the 1920s by the church to Sir John Campbell. In 1959, Culloden House was purchased for £10,000 by farmer Thomas Reid, before being sold again in 1962 to Rutledge White of White's Home Bakery.

It opened the following year as a hotel with 11 bedrooms, and was bought by Hastings Hotels in 1967 for £100,000.

Sir William Hastings, chairman of Hastings Hotels said: "I am proud to have transformed it into what I believe is one of Ireland's finest and most distinguished hotels.

"We have not rested on our laurels and have continued to invest in the property every year since we purchased it."

Sir William added he was thrilled that the Culloden had been included in the Times' list of the 20 Coolest Hotels in Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph