Arbutus Hotel Killarney

Bringing It All Home – There ever, the story of a Killarney original.

When Killarney hotelier Sean Buckley met Gerard Tannam at a holiday fair in early 2003, he was in something of a quandary.

He knew that his hotel, The Arbutus, offered luxurious accommodation, great food and a warm welcome. But most of his competitors were claiming the same and, at times, he felt overwhelmed in the face of newer and bigger hotels with deeper pockets to dip into to sell their wares.

He was intrigued by Gerard’s suggestion that every great business must find a compelling story to tell and invited him to visit Sean and his wife Carol at the hotel in Killarney to talk more.

As Gerard heard the stories of the hotel and its guests; the little courtesies and attention to detail, Norrie’s marvellous home cooking, the visitors who returned again and again, the intricate celtic deco carvings that adorned the hotel entrances and stairways, one extraordinary person and his story began to emerge. He encouraged Sean and Carol to tell him more.

The half-remembered details came back. How Sean’s grandfather, Tim, had been the last in a family of five boys, growing up on a farm on the border between Cork and Kerry. How he had stood in the market square in Killarney, remarking on the fine hotel that stood on the corner of College Street and vowing that he would return one day to own it.

Like thousands before him and since, he took the boat to New York. But unlike most, Tim Buckley returned after fourteen years to make good his promise. During those years in New York, he had worked as a night porter and a hackney cab driver, experiences that would stand to him in his future career.

Before returning, he had made a match with the remarkable Julia Daly, who spent the year before he arrived back in Ireland at the Ramsgrange Cookery School in Wexford where she learned the skills that would make The Arbutus Hotel promise of a warm welcome and world class hospitality a reality.

This was a story worth telling, one that vied for drama and spirit with those told in the small hours in the music and the song of Buckley’s Bar. And, as importantly, this was a story that was unique to The Arbutus Hotel and would enable Sean and his team to speak with a distinctive voice in a crowded marketplace.

What Happened Next?

The Visual Identity

The Brief: To create an identity that would reflect “a hotel of unmistakable character, which delivers its own distinctive brand of hospitality” & echo its essential values: care, assurance, tradition and intelligence.

Primary Audience: The independent-minded traveller (‘one who knows his own mind’), who seeks a definitive Killarney experience, and the travel guide who prides himself on the quality of his portfolio and the success of his recommendations.

Outcome: The new identity features the signature window where the Boss would sit (on an upturned butter-box!) to observe the comings and goings of the town and its visitors and through which he exchanged bills, payments and receipts with the local tradesmen.


The Hotel Brochure

Two elements combined to inspire a new hotel brochure: the belief of its founder that The Arbutus stands square at the very heart of Killarney and the visitor experience, and the discovery after his death in 1984 that this apparently stern and unsentimental man had carried in a little notebook close to his heart, the names and birth dates of each of his children and grandchildren.

The Arbutus Little Book was created to put The Arbutus Hotel ‘back on the map’ and features a map of the town and one of the surrounding countryside along with Sean and Carol’s personal recommendations on where to visit and what to see.


The Bottom Line

The Arbutus Hotel has achieved strong positioning based on its ownership of a unique set of values. As a result, the business now has a strong sense of what to say about itself and its offer.

This has had a number of outcomes:

  • It has opened up new markets for the hotel which are planned to come on-stream in 2005/6.
  • The strategy for the business has been adapted in order to make repeat and word-of-mouth business a priority.
  • The experience of the hotel guest has been enriched as members of the hotel team are now able to tell the Arbutus story for guests and relate it to their everyday tasks.
  • The hotel has been listed in key international travel guides and is no longer describing its offer in a similar way to its competitors.
  • The hotel was one of only five invited to represent the quintessential Killarney hotel experience as part of Killarney 250 celebrations. Decision-making around a whole range of issues, both marketing and operational, has been speeded up thanks to the new sense of direction and focus.

“Perhaps we were too close to it all. We had lost faith in ourselves and in the story we had to tell. We had begun to look and sound like paler imitations of our competitors. In retelling the story of Tim Buckley and The Arbutus, we have regained confidence and belief in what we have to offer the visitor and are putting the hotel back where she belongs, at the heart of Killarney and the Killarney experience.” – Sean Buckley, Owner


New Territory

“In my experience, very few business owners travel to meet you on your arrival by rail or by air. More often than not, the salesman is left to cool his heels in reception whilst his prospective client busies himself with more important matters. When Sean greeted me at Faranfore Airport with a heartfelt ‘Welcome to the Kingdom!’, and led me to his own car to complete the remaining twenty minute journey to Killarney, I suspected I might be in new territory.”

Gerard Tannam, Islandbridge



Leading Players: Sean Buckley & Carol Dempsey of The Arbutus Hotel

Direction: Gerard Tannam of Islandbridge

Design: Monika Crowley of Creative Inputs

Photography: John Redmond of John Redmond Photography

Copy: Denis Goodbody of Adept Advertising