WorkWild Geese

‘The hotel is one of two buildings of note in Warsaw not destroyed during the war’

Wild Geese: Aidan Dempsey, Warsaw

In most contexts, listening to someone dropping names like Dolly Parton, Barbara Streisand and Volodymyr Zelenskiy would sound pretentious. But for Aidan Dempsey, who has spent most of his career managing five-star hotels in Ireland and abroad, rubbing shoulders with high-profile guests is all in a day’s work.

So too is catering to their every need whether that’s having steps built up to the bed for Streisand’s pooch or linking Parton’s specially flown-in trailer to three-phase power at the Four Seasons Hotel in Ballsbridge.

Dempsey was educated by the Jesuits at Gonzaga College in Dublin where a perceptive career guidance counsellor suggested that his easy, outgoing manner would be well suited to a career in hospitality. Up to then Dempsey had been leaning towards a career in radio or journalism but, heeding the counsellor’s advice, he applied to the Shannon College of Hotel Management and graduated four years later with a degree in international hotel management.

He subsequently joined Marriott International on its managerial career pathway and topped off his qualifications with further study at the Cornell University school of hotel administration.


Since graduating just over 20 years ago, Dempsey has spent time in Europe (the Sheraton Luxembourg), in Wyoming in the US (Jackson Hole Four Seasons Resort), in Wicklow (Druids Glen) and in Dublin in senior roles with the Four Seasons, the Fitzwilliam, the Westbury and the Shelbourne hotels.

In 2018, Dempsey took his first long-term overseas position when he relocated to the United Arab Emirates with his wife Clodagh and young family as hotel manager at the Ritz-Carlton in Dubai.

“We made the decision to move to Dubai on a rainy day in Dublin,” Dempsey says. “We loved life in Ireland but wanted to push ourselves outside our comfort zone and this was an opportunity to create our own journey.

“From a career perspective I wanted to gain more international experience and I was keen to see the amazing hospitality available in the Middle East at first hand. Then, from a family point of view, we felt it was a chance to give the kids a different way of life and exposure to different cultures. But the move was a big step, especially for Clodagh who had to leave the job she loved as a dietitian in Temple Street Children’s Hospital and be at home with the kids full time.

“We were in Dubai during Covid and, while it was well-handled in the UAE, it was a tough time for hospitality especially when Expo 2020, which would have been commercially very significant, was postponed,” Dempsey adds. “We were trying to keep things open and operating as normally as possible but we had staff who wanted to go home to their families because of the pandemic and those that stayed had to go on a shorter working week and take pay cuts and that was difficult. So, by the time we came out the other side of Covid, it was time for a change.”

As luck would have it, Dempsey got an offer he couldn’t refuse in 2021 when the opportunity arose to take the reins as general manager at the five star Hotel Bristol in Warsaw.

“The Bristol has been around since 1901 and is one of two buildings of note in Warsaw not destroyed during the war. The hotel is a great source of pride and tradition for those living in the city and very much a prestige address. Our neighbour is the presidential palace,” Dempsey says.

“Probably the biggest challenge I faced when I first arrived was bringing the hotel out of Covid and repositioning it within the Marriott Luxury Collection portfolio. We had to rebuild the team and reconnect with what the Bristol aspires to be – a luxury hotel at the top of its game. This involved pushing hard to train staff to the required level and ensuring the product truly reflected the hotel’s luxury status – something that can be a challenge to achieve when you’re not charging the very high rates you’d find in London or Paris for example.”

The Dempsey family live about 15 minutes from Warsaw city centre in Wilanow, an area popular with ex-pats and diplomats. The two older children attend the international school and have already overtaken their parents when it comes to picking up the language.

“They already knew some Arabic from our time in Dubai and have taken to the language and the life here like ducks to water. They usually end up translating for us when we’re out shopping,” Dempsey says, adding that the family has settled well and all love exploring the forests and beautiful countryside by bike.

“The kids also got to experience real snow for the first time here which was a big hit and we love how easy it is to travel around Europe by road. We are enjoying this newfound freedom to see new countries.

“As I worked my way up through senior management roles in Ireland, my mentors had always advised me that international experience was not a bad way to round out a CV either to return home one day or to keep on the move so I took their advice,” says Dempsey who admits to missing a few things about Ireland, including Dunnes Stores and the odd pint in a local pub.

“It can also be hard when there are family events or friends gathering together and you get a sense of fomo. At times like these, you do feel far away,” he says.

Olive Keogh

Olive Keogh

Olive Keogh is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in business