Since the recession, pubs have been encouraged to diversify in order to attract new custom. One venue that has undergone a major, and remarkably successful, reinvention is Giltrap’s Townhouse in Offaly.
Orla Connolly reports

Dating back to the 17th century, Giltrap’s Townhouse in Kinnitty village is a local landmark in Co Offaly but, like many pubs, the profit margins of this family-run business were hard hit by the recession. “My parents ran the pub and they were immersed in it 24 hours a day,” says John Clendenen, the current owner of Giltrap’s. “Of course, when the recession came business took a bit of a battering, as it did in many licensed premises around the country.” After graduating from Smurfit Business School, John worked for a number of high profile hotel groups around the world before returning home to focus his attention on the revitalisation and re-branding of Giltrap’s

Retaining Tradition

The pub itself underwent significant transformation during the initial renovations but John was keen to retain the traditional elements of the venue. “In terms of the physical improvements, we are trying to keep the authentic feel to the pub,” he says. “The majority of people will come in and admire the snug, for example. I always ask them how long they think it is there and they guess about 150 years. It is only there four or five years now.” However, John felt that upgrading existing attractions in the pub wasn’t enough in the current climate and that the only way for the venue to attract enough footfall was to expand into new territory. “It is now a major challenge for pubs in rural areas to survive on local trade alone,” says John. “They need to start thinking outside the box to see how they can get different groups into their premises at seasonal times of the year.

Glamorous Camping

With Kinnitty Castle a short distance away, the region has always been a popular wedding location. While Giltrap’s has consistently been a popular accommodation spot for wedding guests, John wanted to create an environment that would attract people to Kinnitty, whether they were attending a wedding or not. With this in mind, he constructed a new type of accommodation that would appeal to visitors both young and old – Giltrap’s Glamping (glamorous camping). To launch glamping at Giltraps, John merged his knowledge of the family business and of international travel accommodation that he garnered from his experience of working in a number of five star hotels. This combination of knowledge and experience allowed him to create an innovative attraction for the area, while maintaining the village’s understated charm. “I wanted to come up with something that would fit the local area and, at the same time, differentiate us from the other services on offer,” he says. “Located adjacent to the pub, the glamping experience at Giltraps presents guests with the natural charm of the rustic surroundings, alongside the advantage of running electricity in accommodation that consists of rugged log cabins, and even a mongolian yurt.”

The blend of nature and comfort has proven to be popular with customers who want to experience the beauty that the Irish countryside has to offer without the hassle of unrolling sleeping bags or pitching tents. “It is for people who want to get away from it all,” says John. “They want to experience nature as much as possible without lying on the ground in a two man tent that could blow away in the middle of the night.” The glamping experience has also proved popular with hen parties, birthday parties and corporate groups, with Giltraps creating a range of tailored packages to suit the needs of each group. Packages include Pamper & Prosecco parties and Wet & Wild experiences, not to mention a Face Your Fears package. Perks featured in these packages include a bottle of prosecco on arrival, biking, hiking and team building exercises, pampering sessions, and handmade breakfast hampers stocked with ingredients produced by Giltrap’s own farm yard animals.

A Travel Destination

John’s key objective was to transform Giltraps into a travel destination, not just a place to rest your head. In order to diversify his offering and activity range, he partnered with local businesses to offer customers the activities that form part of Giltrap’s glamping packages. “We are still in the early days of the business but we have managed to extend the season and diversify into new customer segments,” he says. “We are working a lot more closely with the attractions that we have in the local area. Nobody goes to any part of the world to just stay in a bed, they want to explore the local area as well.” Another objective of Giltraps’ diversification strategy is to promote Kinnitty as a whole, including its unique heritage and local landmarks. Some of the local attractions include the Slieve Bloom mountains and the Kinnitty Pyramid. “If you look at our URL it’s – we want people to visit Kinnitty, it’s not just about Giltrap’s, it’s about coming to the village and experiencing that escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life,” he says.

Moving into 2017, John plans to expand the range of glamping accommodation on offer and hopes to entice further footfall into the area with the introduction of a music festival to the region in July. “And the ‘Off the Bloom’ adventure race will take place on August 12th and that will include running, biking and kayaking,” he explains. “Also in Slieve Bloom, within the next 12 months, we are going to see the introduction of 90kms of mountain bike trails. If that comes to fruition, it should elevate Kinnitty to the next level and bring a new type of visitor to the area.”