Greetings from Ireland

 

Domestic holidays are up 25 per cent on last year, and the people taking them seem happy not to travel overseas. At least, that’s what they’re telling themselves, writes ORNA MULCAHY

WICKLOW TOWN is wearing its best bib and tucker for the holidays. Bright purple flowers tumble from hanging baskets and shop fronts are freshly painted. But look a little closer at some of the shops and, what’s this? They’re not actually functioning shops at all, just windows full of nice items that you can buy elsewhere or online. The doors are locked and there is no one inside.

It’s part of an initiative by locals to make Wicklow look more attractive to the hordes of visitors that descend every summer. “Okay,” the town seems to be saying, “times are tough – but let’s try to put a positive spin on things.”

And that’s pretty much what many of the holidaymakers are saying too. Out in the mobile home parks and holiday villages of Brittas Bay, a 15-minute drive along the coast, the mood is resolutely upbeat, especially among those who, in more affluent times, would have been squeezing their Brittas break in between a villa rental in the sun and a city break.

For many, Brittas is now the only holiday they are likely to get this year and expectations have been adjusted accordingly. There is much talk among the sparkly flipflop brigade about getting back to basics and enjoying simple pleasures, and a general view among those who long ago swapped prime sirloin on the barbecue for everything from Lidl that, whatever the weather, the children are having a great time – and isn’t that the important thing?

Facing into a bank holiday promising the usual mix of rain, cloud and patchy sunshine, the Tuscan hills or the beaches of Majorca may seem like a distant dream, but in fact, most of us are pretty happy to be holidaying in Ireland this year, or at least happier than last year.

According to John Concannon, director of market development at Fáilte Ireland, our satisfaction rating with Ireland as a holiday destination is an encouraging 67 per cent, up from 2010’s 57 per cent. The percentage of Irish who are only “fairly happy” with having a home holiday is 29 per cent, down from 38 per cent last year, so we’re adjusting.

Overall, there’s an increase in holiday taking at home of around 24 per cent, according to Fáilte’s research.

There’s been a sharp drop in overseas travel, according to stats from Dublin Airport, which show that the number of Irish people flying out in the first quarter of this year was down 12 per cent on the same period last year, and down 28 per cent on 2008. Package holidays are “slightly down” on last year, according to Kevin Nolan, finance director of holiday specialists Topflight and president of the Irish Tour Operators Federation.

“There’s a noticeable pattern of booking later than heretofore. However, we put this down to the people’s new spending habits, which are ‘spend only when you have to’. A particular aspect of the market is that people are no longer taking two separate holidays abroad, which has also caused a reduction in demand. They might do a few days in Ireland and then go out foreign. If people want guaranteed sun and heat, they will travel abroad, as this is just not available to them in Ireland.”

While sun is never guaranteed, there are other compensations to staying at home. Falling hotel and restaurant prices and more free attractions for families are making things easier. Being able to mix with friends is another plus, says Concannon. Parents have been telling each other for years that children adore being able to go around in gangs on the beach or in the holiday parks, but grown-ups too are beginning to appreciate low-key breaks with friends, he adds.

Hotels are seeing some uplift from last-minute Irish customers. The Flynn Hotel Group, with properties in Cork, Ennis, Kilkenny and Waterford, has seen an increase of more than 15 per cent in the home leisure market, with more people booking at short notice. “The lead-in time for booking has fallen from an average of 15 days in advance to just five,” says Alan Flynn.

Upmarket resort hotels are also seeing an increase in business from home holiday makers, with Parknasilla Resort Spa in Kerry reporting a 5 per cent increase on Irish visitors in 2011 so far and Delphi Mountain Resort in Galway reporting a 12 per cent increase in business, of which 90 per cent is domestic.

All good news for the tourism business, but still there’s a yearning to get off the island. James O’Halloran, a director of James Adam auctioneers on St Stephens Green, has been taken his holidays faithfully in Clare for years, including during the economic boom.

“Even in the wild years, so many people holidayed here because they loved it, but now because you are staying in Ireland, there is some suggestion that you can’t afford to go away. But in fact, a lot of people just want to go back to the same place. That is how I feel even on a day like today, which is poxy weather-wise with fog and mist.”

Although, after all this, he says what he is really looking forward to is a week away in France at the end of the summer. “I can’t wait.”

Another interviewee who talks long and hard about the benefits of their home holiday finishes by saying “but if you were to give me a ticket on the 4.30 flight to Faro, I would go like a shot”.

'Why we're holidaying at home this year'

COLM BYRNE

‘Skiing in February, a sun holiday in the summer and an autumn break would not have been excessive. Now it’s Brittas’

Estate agent Colm Byrne, who co-founded Guardian Property in 2010, once viewed the family mobile home in Brittas as a place to spend time with his folks, while while “real” holidays were spent on the Algarve. Now, Brittas is where he is taking his holiday this year, along with his wife, Jennifer, and baby, Max.

“There was a kind of holiday pattern with people of my generation. A holiday at Christmas, maybe skiing in February, a sun holiday in the summer and an autumn break. That would not have been excessive. Now it’s Brittas and we’re glad to be here.

“If we get a couple of days on our own somewhere later in the year, that would be nice. But this is where we’re at this year and it’s easier. It’s very relaxing. There is nowhere to spend your money. You can eat in McDaniels or Romany Stone and both of them are great, but that’s about it.

“It is not like abroad, where there are so many places to eat you feel you have to eat out in a different restaurant every night. Down here it is all about getting a nice bit of meat and some beers and entertaining people in the mobile.

“And when it comes to babysitting, you can easily find someone to look after a few babies at a time. It’s convenient and it’s safe.”

– Orna Mulcahy

PATRICK CUMMINS and LORRAINE GALLAGHER

‘We decided to go to west Cork . . . It wasn’t as cheap as we thought’

“We holidayed this year in west Cork. Over the past few years we tended to always go backpacking. Last year we did California and rented a car and the year before we went to Vietnam,” says Cummins.

“Recently, I have gone back to college so this year we are trying to watch the money. Lorraine is a primary-school teacher and hoping to get a full-time contract.

“We decided to go to west Cork as it was a place we hadn’t seen. It wasn’t as cheap as we thought it would be. The cottages we rented were €700 for the week but I definitely noticed that food and going out and doing activities were a little cheaper.

“The most expensive thing for me was diesel. We spent nearly €250 on diesel between getting up and back and covering all the ground. We had to budget for it a little more than other holidays. It is amazing how much you can save when you are watching everything. We both spent about €500 each in total.

“It was thoroughly enjoyable but it would be tough to compare it to other years. We actually got engaged during the trip.”

“When the weather is good in Ireland you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I was looking forward to west Cork because we hadn’t been there since I was a child,” says Gallagher. “In the past year, I became a qualified primary school teacher and jobs are very limited, so for the summer I’m not getting paid.

“We went to Kenya back in 2006 and it was very pricey. We did a safari and it is something that now would be seen as a honeymoon trip; then, it was just a holiday.”

– Brian O’Connell

SHONA O’NEILL

‘I will be up and down a bit to work, but for the children this will be heaven’

In recent years, marketing consultant Shona O’Neill spent long summer holidays with her extended family at a villa in Majorca, but this year, she says, they did the sums and opted for Brittas instead. She’s renting a house for herself, husband Hugh Chaloner and three children, Caitlin (15), Hugo (11) and six-year-old Ben.

“I weighed up the pros and cons of Brittas, and really the cons can be mitigated by escaping home every so often. I will be up and down a bit to work, but for the children, especially Ben, this will be heaven. At home, we live in a very urban area and he can’t just play out on the road whereas here the idea that he can just go out on his scooter is brilliant.”

O’Neill considered having a real staycation this summer – staying at home altogether – but not going on holiday can be expensive too, she says, especially in bad weather.

“I took them all bowling the other day and that costs a lot of money, whereas in Brittas they just go out and play. They don’t feel in any way short-changed by a holiday here, and if we stay until they are almost back at school, the memory of a holiday will be fresh for them.”

– Orna Mulcahy

ANNETTE COLLINS

‘On cold days the children can be in their wetsuits all day’

A €3 crab line and a pier is all you need for hours or fun, says Annette Collins, mother of three boys, who is holiday in Lahinch this year rather than going to the sun.

“It’s nothing fancy but the children love it, and on cold days they can be in their wetsuits all day. Eating out has become far cheaper and the pubs will give you cordial for free. You can get a good children’s meal and drink in the the Spinnaker in Lahinch for €7 and that is good value.”

Collins, who runs the holiday home website Imagine Ireland, says her company has seen a big increase in domestic enquiries this year for holiday cottage accommodation.

In her business, she notices that home holidays are getting shorter. A week away has become a weekend for many. Collins’s website is mainly aimed at the UK, French and German market but now it is being inundated with calls from Ireland looking for short breaks.

“Most of them are looking for just a couple of days and a really good deal.”

– Orna Mulcahy

HAZEL LARKIN

‘I don’t mind staycationing, as long as it’s only for this year’

Hazel Larkin (36) lives in Celbridge, Co Kildare. She has seen her financial circumstances change dramatically over the past two years. She has split from her husband and lost her job, and her income has fallen by more than 50 per cent. She is now on social welfare.

“For the first time ever, my daughters – aged nine and seven – will not be holidaying abroad,” she says. “Last year, we went to the UK twice; the year before we went to the UK twice and the Netherlands twice as well. The year before, there was a trip to India and a few trips to the UK. At the time, I took all the trips for granted and didn’t think things were particularly wonderful.”

She is still determined to give her children some happy memories and says they have had a “packed July”. It has “all been free stuff, including a trip to Wexford to stay in a friend’s mobile home. For the girls, that was heaven because they’ve never been in a mobile before.”

She has also taken them on trips to the Natural History Museum, the Chester Beatty Library, and one day they just spent walking up and down Grafton Street and through the George’s Street Arcade. There is always a packed lunch eaten in the car or in a park, depending on the weather.

She has also discovered the joys of Tallaght Library, which is 20 minutes’ drive from her house. She describes it as a fantastic resource, which allows her children to surf the web safely. “It is a lovely, peaceful way to spend a couple of hours. We can just hang out, sitting out the big chairs reading books.

“I don’t mind staycationing, as long as I think it’s only for this year.”

– Conor Pope

MAGS COUGHLAN

‘I’ll holiday for two weeks. The budget is €250’

Mags Coughlan (37) is unemployed at present. “In previous years when I was working, I’d usually take two or three weeks out in Spain. I was a real sun lover, and would go to the beach and chill out with a few glasses of wine. I finished working last year, having worked in print management.

“I took time out and went to Canada and the States on a touring holiday, travelling from Vancouver to Mexico. I came back to Ireland at the end of January and have been looking for work ever since. There are jobs out there but people are taking a long time to make decisions. I need to be around in case someone rings and asks me to do a second interview.

“I’m on a cycling holiday on my own, and camping along the way. Going abroad wasn’t an option as there are flights, accommodation, mobile phones charges, and all those little things that add up.

“My plan now is to go from Killorglin to Kenmare and from there to Skibbereen and Glengarriff. There is a great thing in Ireland called hiker-biker rates, so if you are hiking around, they give you a campsite for €8-€10 for a night. I will cook many nights, so that keeps the costs down. I might squeeze in a pint in the local, but I am pretty self-sustaining.

“I’ll holiday for about two weeks and I think the budget is about €250 and that will be everything, from coffees to accommodation.

“When I think back to other years, I used to fly out of Cork and wouldn’t worry whether another airport was cheaper. I’d usually go to the south of Spain and go out for dinner every night. I am happy to keep my tourism in Ireland and support local businesses in whatever way I can.”

– Brian O’Connell

HELEN BULLOCK

‘A few days in Kerry doesn’t feel much like a holiday’

Helen Bullock from Limerick is in her mid-20s and has recently qualified as a primary-school teacher. While she was accustomed to taking sun holidays throughout her student days and going on mini-breaks with her partner, they have cancelled a planned summer holiday to Berlin because they can’t afford the flights.

“Friends of ours emigrated to Germany and we were really looking forward to seeing them but at €500, the flights were really too much. The combined wage cuts and tax increases have meant we are just about able to keep our heads above water,” she says.

“We might try and get a few days away in my parents’ mobile home in Kerry, but to be honest, that doesn’t really feel much like a holiday.”

Bullock was able to afford trips in the past because she had a friend who worked as a travel agent and who put last-minute deals her way but “she had the good sense to emigrate”.

As a primary-school teacher, she has July and August off – or at least she thought she had. Changed circumstances, however, mean she is working in summer camps this month and has August off.

“We do have tickets booked for the Olympics next year though, so hopefully thoughts of that will keep us going,” she says.

– Conor Pope

WILLIAM McGRATH and KEVIN MURPHY

‘On Saturday night we’ll stay in the van’

McGrath, an unemployed student says: “We’re going on a road trip this weekend to see the golf in Killarney and we’ll also take in the Ring of Kerry. We’re staying in a hostel in Waterville in Kerry and we’ll collect my girlfriend, Denise, who lives in Cork, along the way. Tonight we’ll stay in the van. This is my summer holiday, more or less.

“In previous years we mainly went on sun holidays to the usual places, like Gran Canaria. I was working as a electrician and so had money.

“The amount of time it used to take to save for a two-week holiday including flights and hotel, we now notice it takes the same amount of time to save up to go away for a weekend.

“We’re all paying for the diesel for the trip and not eating out anywhere. I have very little money and so I need to stretch it as far as it will go,” McGrath says.

“When I used to go away before I never thought about money. Now it is so different. My budget is about €200 and that includes accommodation, fuel, food, drinks and tickets to the golf.”

Murphy is a carpenter and NGO worker, from Milltown, Co Dublin and has been on several foreign trips in the past. “I’ve been doing voluntary work with an NGO for the last seven years and have travelled abroad a lot. I went on a few package holidays as well but it wouldn’t have been possible this summer to head off for a week or two.

“I lost my job in 2009 as a carpenter. I worked for a friend and unfortunately he had to let me go after his company had gone bust.

“When we were booking the holiday, I saw a hotel in Waterville which was €50 a night. Two or three years ago, that would not have been a problem, whereas now it was off the table immediately. I went looking for hostels and found one for €14 a night so we’ll stay there one night.

“Some friends are saying to me, ‘What are you going to Kerry on your summer holidays for?’ They are in a better financial position than us, and can’t understand a holiday in Ireland.”

– Brian O’Connell

NICOLA BYRNES

‘If we don’t get some nice weather I will be seriously depressed’

Nicola Byrnes is from Bray and her carpenter husband lost his job in January. The couple have two children aged 12 and eight and have become accustomed to travelling overseas twice or more each year. As recently as last October they were in the Canaries. Now, though, they are preparing for a week in Kerry, starting next week.

“It has been a massive change but everything does change when your husband loses his job,” she says. Byrnes says that for her children it is “no bad thing” to realise that life is “not all about foreign holidays and getting what you want, when you want it”.

She spent two days trawling the web looking for a bargain hotel and eventually found one at Ballygarry House in Tralee. They will be staying in a family room for a week, and breakfasts and dinners are included in the deal. The clincher for her, however, was the offer of free passes to the Aquadome and a pet farm and a number of other day trips which the hotel threw in as part of the package.

They did look at a holiday in Spain, but the cost would have risen to more than €2,500. “We will not be spending anything close to that next week, I can tell you. But we are still looking forward to it. Of course if we don’t get at least some nice weather, I will be seriously depressed.”

– Conor Pope