After more than five months with their properties shrouded in silent gloom, Irish hoteliers could scarcely hide their delight as the day they’ve been waiting for since the darkest days of winter dawned.
Today’s re-opening of hotels – the first step in the reawakening of the Irish hospitality sector in the weeks ahead - has been described both as an emotional and a nerve-wracking experience.
With the sun bathing the Marker Hotel's stunning rooftop terrace in dazzling light, the five-star hotel's. general manager Charlie Shiel was full of optimism. "We are looking forward to a good run of weather and have put the finishing touches to all the outdoor spaces and have got new parasols for downstairs," he said.
While he was hopeful that the weather gods will smile on his hotel this summer, the optimism was tinged with pragmatism and he has also had outdoor heaters installed too.
“We are seeing really good demand for the weekend ahead and weekends throughout June,” he said. “And hopefully we will start to see the resumption of international travel in July and we will be able to welcome visitors from overseas.”
While hotels along the Irish coast have benefited from the staycation boom brought about by the pandemic, Dublin has struggled as people are less inclined to take long breaks in the capital . “We do rely on the international market so can’t wait to see that coming back.”
He said the hotel had already noted an uplift in bookings from other EU countries for August.
Sheil has also noted a dramatic surge in bookings from locals looking for a rub. “Our spa is almost fully booked for June,” he told The Irish Times.
“We couldn’t believe the demand, people are just craving a pampering. In one day alone we had over 100 phone calls inquiring about spa treatments. We have never seen that level of interest before. I had to bring in extra people just to manage the calls.”
The owner of the Inchydoney Island Lodge in West Cork Des O'Dowd could scarcely hide his enthusiasm as he got ready to welcome guests for the first time since last Autumn.
“It has been the longest winter, I think continents have got closer since we were last open,” he said with a laugh that could best be described as wry.
“We closed in October thinking we would be able to re-open after Christmas but now seven and half months later we are finally ready to start welcoming guests again,” he said.
He said bookings at the hotel on the edge of Atlantic Ocean were solid for the weeks ahead. “Like the whole of west Cork we are so lucky and because of our location, we are going to be very busy. I have been reminding our staff not to be complacent, though, we have to show appreciation to our guests because they are driving past some very good city centre hotels to come stay with us.”
He admitted that he would feel “emotional standing at the door to welcome guests back. I think everyone will be a bit emotional as things start to get back to normal and I think there is a sense that we are through the worst of it now thanks to the vaccination programme.”
Brian Hughes of the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel in Clifden will be welcoming 40 guests through the doors this evening. "I am really nervous to be honest and we are limiting the bookings to 40 to start just to make sure we can get the all the wheels spinning. We have been waiting five months to do this but it is a big challenge."
He said the castle was “in great shape and we spent loads of money doing up this, that and the other but the well is running dry and we badly need to reopen.”
He said that bookings were good and pointed to the challenge of recruiting enough staff to service all his guests.
He admitted that while he was really looking forward to opening the doors again, the was “parts of lockdown I enjoyed from a personal perspective. I loved waking up on Sunday morning and wondering to myself if I would go fishing or go for a walk, I won’t be doing that next Sunday, I will be looking after guests and I will be in the kitchen peeling potatoes. But I am really looking forward to seeing the place lit up and alive with guests as it is meant to be.”
As well as sprucing of the Abbeyglen, Hughes has also been developing activities for visitors.
He is launching a a two-night package which will include a one off Connemara Lobster Safari experience.
Guests will get a short coastal cruise on the traditional Connemara currach, he describes it as “the gondola of Connemara” and catch and bait lobster pots. The lobster will then be cooked in the Abbeyglen Castle kitchen and served for dinner.
“It is a bit different,” Hughes says. “And I think it will highlight just how good the local produce we have here in the west is. If you don’t have good produce you can’t have really great food no matter how good your chef is.”