Insider View - Hospitality Awards

Hilton ParkLucy Madden ponders, among other things, the increasingly prolific (and obscure categories of) hospitality awards...

We are told, and no surprises here, that airbrushed stars in magazines leave young girls stressed and wanting to drink. It's the same effect that the annual round of hospitality awards have on me, especially when we haven't received one, or even been shortlisted.

They swish around, these awards, and the categories become ever more obscure. Soon there may be an award for the receptionist with the best teeth. At a stage in life when the onlv accolade I am likely to receive is a cuddly grandmother cup at the local fête, I gnash my teeth (I still have them) at pictures of the beaming recipients and sometimes wonder, in sour and bitter mood, how the hell did they get that?

There are awards, the Nobels, the Booker Prize, the Oscars, which one might hope would confer on the recipient the status of best in class. There are hospitality awards that are of true value, and here the Good Hotel Guide's César awards, Hospitalitv Ireland's National Hospitality Awards, and Georgina Campbell's spring to mind, because they are chosen objectively.

There is more obfuscation when, under scrutiny, the receivers of prices turn out to be paid up members of marketing organisation and that organisation has a title implying universality: potential misrepresentation occurs when this is nor made clear in the attendant publicity.

When Failte Ireland stands over these awards, it would be fairer to those who were not eligible, if it was revealed that the competition was restricted to those who had signed up to the group. Call it sour grapes, bur it's the public who are being deceived.

We may have no plaque to adorn our walls this Christmas but we are just glad still to be in business. Tremble as we all might at the prospect of next season, there just may be some advantages thrown up in this recession. So much nonsense was visited on us during the Tiger years; the spa culture, ubiquitous hotel walls of maroon and gold, tapas bars, celebrities, ostentatious displays of wealth, Failte Towers, chocolate fountains, foam, truffle oil and the list goes on. Now that Helen Lucy Burke has revealed that this latter item is distilled from petrochemicals, my loathing of it is confirmed.

My fervent hope, too, is that we can wave goodbye to the army of consultants that have clustered like boils around people getting on with proper jobs and have acted as a layer of camouflage between us and our lords and masters. "Plant spuddy-wuddies" was once hissed into my husband's ear after a long and expensive session with an agricultural consultant.

Many of those going round mentoring and telling others how to run their businesses often seem to come from a failed business background themselves. And perhaps someone can explain which department of state signed off on the plans for all those builders' hotels that received tax incentives in order to grow like mushrooms.

Could it possibly have been our own tourism authority, the one that assured us all though 2008 that it was 'all to play for': perhaps an errant 'l' crept in there and they really meant 'it's all to pay for'. Where on earth did they think they were going to get the punters to fill all those extra beds? The net result is bankrupt hotels, bankrupt banks (if such a thing is possible) and the traditional hotel stock under massive pressure to sustain itself. Who shot whom in whose foot?

All is not lost. Earlier this year I heard a programme made for BBC by the brilliant Olivia O'Lcary, explaining the collapse of our economy to British audiences. On her visits home she is dismayed by the state of the nation and the parlous state of her friends who have remained in Ireland.

Nevertheless, she ended her report on an upbeat note by saying that in spite of everything, she finds more resilience and crucially, fun, to be had here than anywhere else she goes. Who would argue with that? No-one parties like the Irish, it always seems to be the favoured activity.

Our local town, Clones, has a small committee who somehow raise enough money to host an annual film festival. They put on some of the best films that will never reach our Multiplexes because they may not have been made in Hollywood and probably have sub-titles.

A small group of local people, a dozen at best, sits in a mobile cinema watching these masterpieces while the neighbouring bars explode with activity. It’s hard not to think that talking is what we do best and what loosens tongues better than alcohol? "

Talk of which reminds me of those awards - or lack of them - anyone for a pint, then?

Together with her husband Johnny, Lucy Madden runs their magnificent 18th century mansion, Hilton Park, Clones, Co Monaghan as a country house which is open to private guests, groups, small weddings and conferences. The restored formal gardens are also open by arrangement. Lucy is a keen organic gardener and also a member of the Irish Food Writers Guild.

Kindly supplied by the respected food service and drinks industry magazine, Hospitality Ireland. Click here to read more about them Hospitality Ireland Magazine.

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