Standing in the lobby of the new Hotel Gansevoort on Park Avenue South in New York is nothing less than a feast for the eyes. Guests lounge in the hound’s-tooth upholstered high wing-back chairs, as a glowing fire envelops the foyer with a sense of warmth, a difficult feat against the floor to ceiling windows which fill the space with natural light.
As I absorb the surroundings, Michael Ryan emerges from a room behind the front desk. Smartly dressed in a grey suit, the director of front office at this plush New York hotel, has come a long way from his humble beginnings with the Shannon College of Hotel Management in Co. Clare.
In true Irish fashion, our conversation begins with the topic of the weather, as we comment on the sharp bite in the air, a pleasant compromise from the familiar rain of Ireland.
For the next 20 minutes, Ryan takes me on a tour of one of New York’s newest luxury hotels in all its grandeur. Akin to its sister hotel in New York’s Meatpacking District, Hotel Gansevoort Park Avenue exudes elegance.
Located on the corner of Park Avenue and 29th, the 20-story building includes 249 rooms, an indoor/outdoor heated rooftop pool and a tri-level bar, as well as an Exhale spa and a Cutler salon.
From the Deborah Anderson photography that adorns the walls, to the cozy caramel tones of its Italian restaurant, I imagine the guests that stay here wholeheartedly embrace the classic style of Park Avenue by resting their weary bones in such sophisticated surroundings.
“There is a professionalism here in New York that is unrivalled. The customer’s expectation of product and service is far higher, so there is very little room for employee error,” Ryan told the Irish Voice.
“There is so much competition in New York and everyone is fighting for that little but of business,” he added.
With the family home in Rathgar, Co. Dublin, Ryan moved around from a young age as his father was an officer with the Irish military.
As part of his training, Ryan spent two years in Clare and two working abroad. During his studies, the Irishman managed to dip his toe in both the European and U.S. hospitality industry, working with well-known hotel groups in Brussels and Texas.
From there he moved on to the Clarence Hotel in Dublin, which is owned by U2’s Bono and The Edge.
“The Clarence will always be a very special place to me. I was originally hired there by an amazing hospitality professional named Olivier Sevestre back in 1997 and have worked there on four separate occasions through the years,” said Ryan.
He adds that working for two of the world’s biggest rock stars was always a novelty.
“Having really cool owners too wasn’t that bad either!” Ryan laughed.
After spending over three years at the Clarence, Ryan relocated to Miami where he managed a hotel for almost five years, before recently relocating to New York City.
“Miami just puts a smile on my face. I had an amazing 4.5 years there. It’s just a completely different lifestyle, but also New York has it all. There is always something to do and things to see,” says Ryan.
Pulling a 60 hour work week is the norm for this Dublin man, with an average day consisting of property walkthroughs; training; scheduling; dealing with guest opportunities; payroll; assisting VIP guests and managing guest’s expectations.
Despite the long hours, and high pressure nature of the industry, Ryan says getting positive feedback from customers makes it all worthwhile.
“Hospitality is tough. It is terribly taxing physically and mentally, but it is hugely rewarding when things work out,” Ryan says.
“Getting things right for people, whatever it is, a particular arrangement or request, or something out of the blue.
“It is doing something extraordinary for someone and managing a guest’s expectations. And when you can achieve all of those things, it is hugely rewarding,” he says.
“That positive feedback, that positive energy is very fulfilling.”
Does his Irish charm help this hotel manager in his everyday work life? Ryan certainly thinks so.
“The Irish are more grounded, plus our education system is very good,” says Ryan.
“We are generally able to talk to anyone, and when you are working in the hotel industry you have your executives, your managers and so forth and you have your hourly staff. And the way I see it is that everyone is the same, because we are all get paid by the owner.”
With Ireland’s economic freefall hitting the country’s hotel industry hard, Ryan says the name of the game is all about competition.
“Any little thing that can differentiate you from the competition down the road,” Ryan says. “In Ireland our biggest challenge is competing with the rest of Europe as a destination
“You basically have to be creative, and that is really what it is all about these days. Adding in value enhancement scenarios for hotels,
“We have a great tradition and we should be very proud of it and try to enhance that because everything is so international now, and everyone is fighting for business. Heads in beds is what you need, bottom line revenue.”
Working in the hospitality industry in New York City, the Dubliner admits it can hard to switch off sometimes.
“If you met me outside work you would probably not recognize me,” jokes Ryan.
“Although if we do go out I am very much about making sure everyone is enjoying themselves. And everyone is comfortable.
“It’s very rare that I wouldn’t notice everything as soon as I walk into a place, even from a safety perspective. You pick up on everything, but sometimes you just bite your lip.”
Summing up what makes a great hotel, Ryan simply replies, “Staff, service and value for money.”
“Staff really make a place. You can have an amazing building, but it’s nothing without the proper staff to see through the vision.”
Despite a trip home to Dublin for a family occasion in May, this Irishman intends to stay in New York for the foreseeable future.
“New York has so much to offer. It’s a melting pot, it has got so much culture and diversity and things to do all the time,” concluded Ryan.