As General Manager of Ireland’s only theme park, Tayto Park, where you can ride the Cú Chulainn rollercoaster, take a Tayto factory tour, see an exciting collection of mammals and birds and hang out with Mr Tayto, CHARLES COYLE has our idea of a dream job. He reveals what a day at the famous park is like and tells us what kind of skills you need to be a hit in tourism.
Any Given Day
My day varies depending on the time of the year. At the height of the season the park is open from 9.30am to 7pm and I usually come in at 8.45 or 9am. We have a massive rush of admissions when the park opens so we have to manage that, then move everyone to the park where they can queue for tokens and rides.
Once we’re up and running the rest of the day is spent juggling existing work commitments. As well as operational issues on any given day I handle insurance, security, HR, work with suppliers, liaise with managers and deal with any problems such as staff shortages.
At the end of each day we cash up, manage any pressing issues which cropped up during the day that need to be fixed for the next day, and I catch up on emails. In summer time, this could take me up to 7.30 or 8pm. It’s a long day but it’s a short season so you don’t have to do those hours all year round. People talk a lot about the long and unsociable hours in hospitality but I think all industries have their busy times where you have to work extra. For the farmers it’s harvest season, for retailers it’s Christmas.
In the off season the day is a little quieter when the park is closed but there is still lots to be done. We have reviews of the year, ongoing training, we begin planning for the new season and focus on promotions and events – whether that is creating a haunted house and spooky night events for Hallowe’en or prepping for Santa at
the new season and focus on promotions and events – whether that is creating a haunted house and spooky night events for Hallowe’en or prepping for Santa at Christmas. There are a lot of European regulations that we have to keep up to date with also. As you can imagine, health and safety is crucially important in a theme park.
There are endless amounts of opportunities in the tourism industry and Tayto Park is no exception. We have many positions to fill each season,from the food and beverage and retail outlets to groundskeeping and manning the rides and attractions. If I was in college I would give my right arm to work here. The average age of the teamis 21 and although we all work hard, there is a great atmosphere and it is good fun.
There are 385 staff to manage in Tayto Park at the height of the season and, while this number drops off a lot when we’re closed in the off season, we still need a big team during that time to look after the animals, maintain the grounds and run the business. There are a number of full-time staff who are here all year, including rangers, maintenance and landscaping teams, the accounts department, the marketing manager and so on.
I would advise anyone starting out in their career to work with the public, at least for a short time. Every day is different when you’re looking after people and you learn more working with the public than you do in any other trade. Most importantly, you learn how to deal with people and that is an invaluable life skill.
Whether you go on to work in other industries or you decide to stay in tourism, it’s a great place to start your career. In the short-term, you learn so much. In the long-term you can reap many rewards. A number of the team who started out here as waiting staff have progressed to become supervisors or managers. Many are still with us, some have gone on to manage other hospitality businesses or work in other industries, such as retail. The great thing about hospitality is that the skills you learn are very transferable. You can easily work in other industries and tourism also offers great travel opportunities.
Qualifications aren’t essential. You can definitely progress up the ladder with the right experience, but they certainly help when you’re applying for work. We receive thousands of CVs in here and if you have some formal qualifications or specific skills – whether it’s in tourism studies, first aid training, or fluency in other languages – it helps us pick out your CV from the rest.
Enthusiasm Trumps Experience
While qualifications help, the most important thing we look for in new recruits is enthusiasm. We feel we can teach anyone the skills required to work in Tayto Park but we can’t programme personality – believe me, we’ve tried.
If you’re not an enthusiastic person it won’t work in this industry. You have to be smiling, happy and nice at all times in this business and you must give everyone the same level of service. Someone could come into Tayto Park and receive wonderful service from 99% of the staff but if one member of the team drops the ball that’s what they’ll remember. We all have bad days from time to time but, no matter what, you have to put on the best face possible.
A Crisp Path to Tourism
I didn’t start out in tourism – my background is in crisps – but I got drafted into do some projects when Tayto Park first opened and my role grew from there. The park was originally intended to be a much smaller operation to promote the Tayto Crisp brand but it has been extremely successful and grown into its own business which stands on its own two feet. We were told that there wasn’t a market for a theme park in Ireland before we opened but we’ve proved that theory wrong.
Even though I didn’t start out in tourism, I very much enjoy it. There are always challenges and, like any job, not every day will be great, but I love it 90% of the time. Not everyone is so lucky in their career.
This article first appeared in the 2015 issue of Get a Life in Tourism.