This season’s ‘revenge travel’ is a trip best taken cold

Nothing will improve the appeal of outdoors tourism like the option to go indoors

Outdoor activities in beautiful Glendalough in Co Wicklow. Photograph: Fáilte Ireland.

Beach holidays will be back this year, according to Michael “jab and go” O’Leary, and to be fair, he is right this time. It just might not be the beach all of us were hoping for.

I've personally never met a beach that wasn't enhanced by the addition of several dozen burger bars linked by a well-swept boardwalk, flapping sun parasols and signs written in the international language of ice-cream. But in Ireland we like our beaches to boast a padlocked toilet, a queue for the single coffee kiosk stretching several miles inland and a foreboding private members' club in which nobody has had any fun since 1901. Anything less rustic is unsupported by our vital weather statistics.

Still, if there is a year for a friendlier and more ambitious range of accessible outdoor facilities in Irish tourism spots – not just on or near the coast – then this is it. Covid-19 struggles outdoors. Holidaymakers are supposed to like it. The tourism sector is trying to warm up for a 2021 season not knowing when, what or how exactly they will be allowed to open. The safe bet is on revenue streams that can be gleaned without recourse to a roof.

This isn't the only reason, however, that Fáilte Ireland put "outdoor tourism" at the centre of the €55 million business continuity scheme launched yesterday at a virtual event it called Survive to Thrive.


There was also a financial explanation for why the first phase of the scheme, which will soon open for applications for grants of between €3,750 and €200,000, was aimed at outdoor activity providers that operate hop-on-hop-off bus tours, bike and walking tours, kayaking, tourist boat trips, “golf courses with a tourism offering”, surf schools, angling and “guided tourism equestrian experiences”.

Some will have reservations about their reservations, which is understandable. Others will go for the pizza

These businesses, along with caravan and camping providers and attractions that have not-for-profit or charity status, are among those excluded from the Government’s Covid Restrictions Support Scheme, which is aimed at companies obliged to restrict access to their premises. Tourism providers that take the great outdoors as their premises did not qualify. Without intervention, the “survive” step of “survive to thrive” would be impossible for many.

Dining quality

Two other new funding initiatives announced yesterday bode well for the chances of a city cafe-culture paradise this summer. The Outdoor Dining Grant Scheme will “improve the quality of outdoor dining spaces and offer reassurance around safety and comfort”, Fáilte Ireland says, while the Urban Animation Grant will pay for “innovative lighting and art installations” in towns and cities.

This is bad news for that fox that has had a run of Dublin lately and good news for everybody who wants to actually see their friends when they, well, see their friends. If it pans out, there may even be seats available that don’t have one leg hovering precariously over a drain.

Even once these pavement socials are permitted by the Government – assuming they will be at some point – not everybody will feel comfortable partaking, of course. Some will have reservations about their reservations, which is understandable. Others will go for the pizza, then stay for the pious videoing of fellow diners in a bid to later shame the ones they believe to be errant via social media. So much of 2021 already feels like a rerun of 2020, it would be nice if we could skip this latter practice and make a mature, collective agreement to pause recording for the foreseeable and find ways to report concerns that don’t involve Twitter.

“Revenge travel” is the industry’s hopeful term for the anticipated explosion of pent-up demand for holidays once the Covid-19 crisis has eased. As with its cousin “revenge shopping”, the ability to join in this post-pandemic demand will be confined to those whose livelihoods haven’t been destroyed. But it doesn’t seem outlandish to predict that people lucky enough to have seen their savings swell over the past year will be keener than ever to jab-jab-go-go-go.

Alas for Michael O'Leary and Ryanair, the era of unadulterated "revenge travel" abroad may not be quite as soon as they would like, so Fáilte Ireland will once again be selling Ireland to the Irish this year in the knowledge that domestic tourism is the only game in town.

Covid-deniers and American racists may have hijacked the word 'freedom' out of idiocy or for nefarious purposes, but the rest of us can still admit to suffering the loss of it

In recent years, Irish tourism marketers haven’t been shy about showing off the more rugged, windswept elements of what’s on offer. The theory that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing, has been front and centre. But selling Ireland’s “outdoors” potential isn’t the same task it was pre-pandemic.

Last summer’s “make a break for it” campaign was built on the idea that Ireland would never have felt as big or expansive as it did after the first wave’s restrictions. This still applies. Indeed, the lockdown-numb are now chasing experiences so hard they’re exposing themselves to the drizzle just to feel something.

Cosy indoors

Then again, the nation has never felt less like going for another walk. Camping is romanticised only by people who normally have all the access to shelter, warmth and cooking facilities they could ever want. By the same token, the merits of being outside are best understood when the respite of being somewhere interesting indoors – a cosy pub, cheerful tea room or rainproof craft shop – is also available. Covid-deniers and American racists may have hijacked the word “freedom” out of idiocy or for nefarious purposes, but the rest of us can still admit to suffering the loss of it.

“Book your summer holiday with confidence,” one tour operator declares in an ad that pointedly highlights refund guarantees and virus-testing partners. It’s sort of like the “confidence” a deodorant promises as it subtly reminds us we’re definitely going to be leaking underarm sweat.

“Summer is getting closer,” insists Ryanair by email. Again, this is technically true, and yet somehow it doesn’t feel it.