Revenue’s stay-and-spend scheme a chance to enjoy top hotels

Those with a keen eye on price will save hundreds of euro on meals and trips away

Were our couple to drop everything and race to Cong, Co Mayo, right now they could have themselves an overnight stay in one of the best hotels in the world – Ashford Castle. File photograph: Getty

Were our couple to drop everything and race to Cong, Co Mayo, right now they could have themselves an overnight stay in one of the best hotels in the world – Ashford Castle. File photograph: Getty

 

Pricewatch was delighted to wake up last Thursday morning to realise that it was the dawn of a six-month spell over which Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will be picking up the tab for our holidays.

Well, sort of.

October 1st marked the start of an ambitious new scheme which will see the State giving Pricewatch – and every other tax payer in the State – a credit for at least a portion of the meals we eat out in the months ahead, assuming, that is, that we will be allowed to eat out again at some point in the future.

It will also cover the cost of at least some of some of the hotel stays we might be considering between now and the spring time, assuming such things will be allowed too.

While the so called stay-and-spend scheme, which was announced as part of the July stimulus package and rolled out formally at the start of last month, is not exactly lavish, it is certainly better than a slap in the face with a cold, dead-eyed lobster.

If used wisely and quickly then a canny couple or family with a keen eye on the price will be able to save themselves hundreds of euro on meals out and mini-breaks away from home in the months ahead while also supporting one of the most hard hit sectors in our society.

Under the scheme, people are being encouraged to spend money across the hospitality sector over the autumn, winter and spring and if they do so they will get 20 per cent of what they hand over in restaurants, pubs, hotels and other businesses between October and April back in the form of income tax credits.

It probably goes without saying – but we will say it anyways – that there are conditions and limits to the new scheme.

For starters, the value of the tax credits have been capped at €125 which means Stay and Spend will stop having any benefit to consumers once a ceiling of €625 has been reached. Mind you a qualifying couple who both pay tax will be able to get tax credits worth €250 as long as they spend €1,250.

People will also have to spend at least €25 for any transaction to be counted towards the total and only non-alcoholic drinks and food will be covered in restaurants so you won’t be able to go on the lash with one in five of the rounds being bought by Donohoe.

For a business to qualify for the scheme, the tax man will at the very least have to know that the business wants to be part of it.

That means that qualifying business will have to be registered for VAT, have a current tax clearance certificate and be registered with Fáilte Ireland or another relevant tourism body as well as the HSE Environmental Health Service.

They will also have to display a sign stating that they are taking part in the scheme prominently in their premises.

It is also worth pointing out that not every restaurant and hotel will take part of the scheme and if a business is not officially registered that there will be no tax credits allowed.

The good news is there is a very long and easily searchable list of the restaurants, cafes, hotels, guest houses and B&Bs which have already signed up for the scheme on the Failte Ireland website and Pricewatch found it to be a most useful platform in deciding where we might travel in the months ahead. Whenever we are allowed travel again, that is.

While we can see the logic in someone asking if this all not coming too late and why wasn’t the stay and spend scheme started during the summer when more people were travelling within Ireland, we can also see the logic behind the answer that that would have been little use to tourism businesses.

Official thinking is that bookings were likely to be okay in July and August as Irish people were confined to the island because of travel restrictions so had little choice but to spend their holiday money at home. And that was borne out across many hotels and restaurants which reported solid, if not spectacular, business over the summer months.

It is clear that the tourism sector will really struggle in the winter months when Irish people are, typically, less inclined to book trips away and that is why the focus is on the months between October and April.

Taxpayers seeking to avail of the scheme can register by downloading an app – Revenue Receipts Tracker – and providing their name and PPS number. They must also have an income tax or USC liability against which the tax credit can be set. Qualifying people who don’t have a smart phone will also be able to make claim online or by post.

People who don’t pay income tax because they are on social welfare or a pension or earn less than the income tax threshold will not be able to take advantage of the scheme, While that is clearly unfair on many people, the authorities have said that trying to bring everyone under the umbrella of the scheme would have been too complex.

It is also important to note that people will not actually have to be on holidays to take advantage of the tax credits on the table and once a restaurant is participating in the scheme and person spends more than €25 they will be able to get money back one they can be verified with receipts.

While you may already be familiar with taking pictures of your food in restaurants, you will now have to get used to taking some of your receipts. If you want to get the tax credit you download the app and register your name and PPS number. Then when you are out eating or in hotels sleeping make sure to get your receipts and to take a picture of them that shows the amount you have spent and the place where you did so. When you reach your cap of €625 the app will alert and show that you are done.

Of course people will have to wait a while before they actually get any money back. The tax credit will not apply until the tax year after you have spent your money so if you hit the €625 threshold between October and December, you will get the tax credit next year and if if you leave spending until next year, then you will not get the tax relief on it until 2022.

On that basis, Pricewatch reckons it is worth taking advantage of the scheme quickly and as not only will the tax credit be applied as fast as possible, it will also give you something to look forward to in the weeks ahead.

So, how much can I save tonight?

Last week we came across a a report released by property adviser Savills Ireland that peaked our interest. It suggested that even without the tax credit, there has never been a better time for people book a stay in a Dublin hotel with many offering discounts of almost 50 per cent in the coming weeks.

The survey suggested that a night in some five-star hotel rooms and breakfast in the morning were available for less than €200 and with hotel occupancy in the city at its lowest level in history, people living Dublin – and unable to leave their county as a result of travel restrictions – have been encouraged to support local businesses by considering booking dinner and bed and breakfast in a hotel close to home.

By taking advantage of deals a person could end up staying over in a nice hotel and paying little more than the cost of a meal out in the city, taxies in and out and pre- or post-dinner drinks in a pub might have cost in pre-Covid times.

Savills analysed year-on-year rates for a one-night stay in the capital – including breakfast for two – across all hotels in Dublin and found that the average rate for five-star hotels was €250, with some availability for under €200. By contrast in September and October of last year prices averaged more than €400. The average daily rate for the city’s four-star hotels, meanwhile, was put at €130 and there was a wide choice of rooms in such hotels for less than €110. Last September and October prices averaged €200.

But of course Dublin is not Ireland and the Savills study did not factor in the tax credit. We thought we would price hotels in the north, south, east and west for tonight to see what deals we might find and work out how much money the tax credit scheme might save us.

Now, what lies beneath obviously comes with some caveats. First, it is a Monday night in October and prices will be higher at weekends. Second, travel restrictions in at least two of the counties featured – at the time of writing – mean that only residents of those counties will be able to take advantage of the deals. And finally, the prices paid at checkout and the eventual cost to our fantasy couple are not the same and there will be a lag of months before they get their 20 per cent back.

So, with the caveats out of the way, we figured we would look at the best the country has to offer. The Merrion Hotel in Dublin has signed up for the scheme and is offering what it calls “A five-star steal” from €350 per couple on this lovely Monday night.

For that our couple will get one night’s accommodation in “a luxurious double room” a bottle of chilled champagne in their room, a full Irish breakfast the next morning and a three-course dinner for two in the hotel’s Garden Room.

The stay-and-spend scheme means they can knock 20 per cent off the price so, ultimately, the night of pampering will eventually end up costing our imaginary couple €280 and they will have only used €70 of their €250 tax credit.

Now, for our own amusement we decided to break down the prices a bit further. We have no idea what type of champagne they serve in the Merrion but we’re guessing it’s pretty fancy. For the sake of argument we will price it at €50 (yes, we know, it probably costs way more than that). Even if a three-course meal for two in the hotel’s garden room only costs €120 – and given the surroundings it would most likely cost a whole lot more than that – it means, that with the tax break included, the actual cost of the bed and breakfast in one of the finest hotels in the country will cost our lucky couple just €110 or €55 each.

We then went west to Ashford Castle

Were our couple to drop everything and race to Cong right not they could have themselves an overnight stay in one of the best hotels in the world – and the awards the castle by the lake has won speak for themselves – as well as a five-course dinner in the excellent George V Dining Room and a full Irish breakfast for €525. There’s more. There would also be complimentary access to the relaxation pool, steam room and fitness studio and a round of golf on its nine-hole course.

So, if we take the 20 per cent off, our couple will have to pay €420. If we allow €100 per head for the five course dinner – and it is easily worth that – than the actual cost of the bed and breakfast in the Cong castle falls to €220, a price unheard of in the normal world.

Our couple might alternatively travel south to Kinsale where a night in the Blue Haven Hotel with an evening meal tonight for the two of them comes in at a considerably more competitive €220, from which we must subtract our 20 per cent. That takes the actual cost to €176 – so if we allow €100 for the evening meal for two, the cost of the bed and breakfast is €76.

We decided to complete a circuit of the compass by travelling north to the grand looking Lough Eske Castle in Donegal where one night’s bed and breakfast, a three-course dinner and a glass of Prosecco as well as a “chocolate treat on arrival” for tonight in the five-start hotel was priced at €269.

With the 20 per cent tax credit, that cost falls to €215. So, let’s say the two glasses of prosecco cost €7.50 each and the mystery chocolate treat is a fiver, then we are looking at a price of €195. We will allow €100 for our dinner for two then suddenly the actual cost of a lovely looking hotel for one night only actually costs less than €100.

And finally we went into the middle of the country to Longford. Center Parcs has also signed up to the scheme. We had to change the rules a little here as you can’t really book one night in the resort. We were able to find three nights in a three-bedroom woodland lodge for the weekend ahead for €699. With the tax credit, our couple would save €140. The potential savings would not end there as spending on activities and in the site’s restaurants would see the savings climb alongside the costs. But even at most basic level, a price of €560 for a weekend in the resort is a price unlikely to be seen again.

But, money aside, what matters more perhaps, is that people – those who can afford it, it should be said – can spend wisely and spend quickly across the hospitality sector in the weeks ahead. By doing so it will give a beleaguered industry across the country a bit of a lift at time they really, really need our support.

The actual breaks we have featured here are all lovely too which makes it a win, win.

What about gift vouchers?

Hotels are looking at other ways to get people to spend money in the weeks and months ahead. Original Irish Hotels for instance has launched a corporate gift voucher for the 2020 festive season.

The umbrella group of hotels says that “corporate gifting will be an important source of income for Irish hospitality businesses under the current trading conditions” and suggests that “supporting indigenous industry is a new ethos for companies coupled with rewarding loyal customers and hardworking staff”.

It says its corporate gift voucher offers “the perfect solution to both initiatives and companies can gift an employee up to the value of €500 tax free”.

The gift voucher denominations start at €50 and are redeemable at their collection of manor houses, hotels, castles and experiences around Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Róisín Wallace of the hotel group says a voucher is “the gift of wonderful memories and the gift of time spent with loved ones”.

She points out that it will also support Ireland’s tourism sector.

“We represent family owned hotels and venues who have had to endure a tough trading season and the corporate gifting will be an important source of revenue in 2020. We have had great success with gift vouchers sales this summer and it has sparked interest and sales in the corporate sector looking for an alternative to the Christmas party as a way to reward employees.”

So, were an employee to get a €500 voucher from their employer that would be tax free while the stay-and-spend tax credit will further enhance the tax benefits while there is also a lovely break at the end of it all which makes it a win, win win.