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A little slice of 'hevlin: Hospitality awards to unveil 2020 winners as Fermanagh hotel keeps growing


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The Killyhevlin Hotel

The Killyhevlin Hotel

The Killyhevlin Hotel

It's grown massively over four centuries from a cottage, to a country house, to a guest house and finally to the modern-day upmarket Killyhevlin Hotel.

But the owners of the award-winning haven in Enniskillen aren't resting on their laurels and they're certainly not taking the challenges of Brexit for granted either.

Moving with the times has become a major building block in the success story of one of Northern Ireland's most popular hotels, according to David Morrison, the general manager of the Killyhevlin, and he knows Brexit will mean that he and his staff who are based only a short distance from the border will have to be ready for anything.

But the Killyhevlin has weathered many's a storm in the past, facing down problems presented by terrorism and tourism downturns.

The rich 400-year history associated with the site on which the hotel stands may not be quite as well-known as the Killyhevlin's spacious rooms, chalets, leisure facilities and eateries.

But a book looking back to the past makes a fascinating read about the personalities from the old sprawling estate and the fact that when it was Killyhevlin House in 1925, the Irish Boundary Commission met there to decide if Fermanagh should be part of Northern Ireland after partition.

In the 30s, Killyhevlin House started welcoming paying guests, but it was in 1967 that it became a hotel after Ian Cooper and his sister, Noreen, who owned the Imperial Hotel in Enniskillen, came along.

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Leigh Watson, Director; David Morrison, General Manager and Jackie Wright, Director, Killyhevlin Hotel, Enniskillen.

Leigh Watson, Director; David Morrison, General Manager and Jackie Wright, Director, Killyhevlin Hotel, Enniskillen.

Leigh Watson, Director; David Morrison, General Manager and Jackie Wright, Director, Killyhevlin Hotel, Enniskillen.

They sold it three years later to flamboyant English businessman Frank Wright, who opened up a new riverside extension and banqueting hall, as well as installing an exotic waterfall and pool with three crocodiles, two alligators and a couple of terrapin.

Raymond and Caroline McCartney bought the Killyhevlin in 1972 before the Watson family acquired it four years later and they've been making the four-star retreat progressively bigger and better ever since.

The deaths of two inspirational members of the Watson family, Pearl and her son, Rodney, within months of each other six years ago devastated the staff and customers, but insiders say there was a resolve to honour their memory by maintaining their visions for the Killyhevlin.

General manager, David Morrison, allows himself a satisfied smile as he talks about the hotel's 70 rooms, the 14 new self-catering chalets, the expanded walkways, the lawns and the health club and leisure facilities, which include a top-of-the-range spa and swimming pool.

But he knows only too well that there's no standing still in the hospitality industry. And the improvements programme continues apace at the Killyhevlin, which in 2012, was the media hub for the G8 summit, which brought journalists from all over the planet to Fermanagh to cover the exploits of the world's leaders.

TV news teams presented live reports from the Killyhevlin against the breath-taking backdrop of Lough Erne.

Mr Morrison says the hotel's main catchment area is greater Belfast and visitors tend to come back time and time again.

He adds: "I think that whilst there are 70 bedrooms, the Killyhevlin still very much holds its family charm. And we are very lucky that we have a very good and a very static staff who feel very much part of the family here."

Mr Morrison is happy with business from the domestic market, but he believes that Fermanagh's potential as a tourist destination from outside Northern Ireland could be developed more.

And the Killyhevlin marketing team are part of regular initiatives to attract more visitors to Fermanagh from the Republic.

On Friday night, of course, Brexit became a reality.

Mr Morrison, the hotelier of the year in 2018, says it's still hard to assess what the UK's departure from the European Union will mean for tourism in general and for the hotel in particular.

"We don't know what the implications are going to be. Nobody does. But I do think over the last three or four months, we have seen a little bit more hesitation from customers to spend money. The lead time in bookings has got considerably shorter," adds Mr Morrison, who has also detected changes in customers' tastes when it comes to food, which is one of the Killyhevlin's strongest selling points.

A few years back, Coronation Street star Charlie Lawson and Arlene Foster, who are both from Fermanagh, were among the guests at a Taste of Ulster dinner to introduce the refurbished Kove Restaurant to the Killyhevlin's clientele.

Casual dining in the hotel grill room is also popular.

"Indeed, I think we are seeing a slightly new trend in casual dining becoming more in demand than a la carte dining," says Mr Morrison, who adds that the hotel are celebrating their inclusion in Northern Ireland's Top 100 Hospitality Businesses for 2020 with a series of special offers.

The Hospitality Ulster Top 100 Business Award winners for 2020 will be unveiled at a star-studded event

in the Crowne Plaza Hotel Belfast, and the countdown is well and truly on. On Wednesday, February 19, local entertainment legends Tim McGarry and Pamela Ballantine will be joined by former Premier League footballer and Strictly Come Dancing star, Robbie Savage, to toast the best of the hospitality industry in Northern Ireland. Tickets can be booked by contacting Jordan at Eventful on 02890 434320 or by emailing jordan@eventful.co.uk.

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