‘Camping fits well into a Covid-19 world’

Poor weather is not deterring campers who have opted for holidays at home

Wez Pollington and Tuesday Whitfield get things ready for Willowbrook glampers. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Wez Pollington and Tuesday Whitfield get things ready for Willowbrook glampers. Photograph: Brian Farrell

 

Children have been running around covered head to toe in mud in recent days at the Willowbrook Glamping and Hideaways in Ballaghaderreen in Co Roscommon, but parents are unfazed.

The heavy rain and storms that swept in last week have done little to dampen the experience, with parents just glad that their charges can get outdoors and stay there.

“I think the people who want to go camping are prepared for all weather. We have seen kids running around absolutely covered in mud and they just love it,” says Wez Pollington.

Staycationers have no great expectations about Roscommon’s weather, says co-owner Tuesday Whitfield: “The people who are coming to us this year are Irish so they know what it’s like. At least they’re not people coming for a lovely summer break in Ireland where they expect nice weather in July.”

However, it is “really sad that we had two months of amazing weather when we were told to stay inside”, and now the rain has arrived just as everyone has been told that they can go outside, says Pollington.

Many guests are first-time campers, people who would normally have opted for a hotel or self-catering break on past Irish holidays or, more likely, a holiday abroad.

Health and safety

Camping fits well into a Covid-19 world, according to Whitfield and Pollington. Guests are sectioned off in individual glamping pods, known as “yurts”, or in their own tents.

Health and safety signs telling campers to keep washing their hands and “keep smiling” dot the glamping site, though Willowbrook prefers not to use the HSE’s stark yellow and black design.

“I wanted the signs to be friendly and colourful so they are nice to look at and build up people’s positivity,” says Whitfield, who has sourced locally made sanitisers and soaps.

Pollington says the extra measures, such as allocating toilets and showers to groups to limit cross-contamination, are a “relief” to guests who are concerned about the spread of Covid-19.

“All the guests get an email before they arrive to let them know what it is really like and I think it really puts them at ease. I think people appreciate that we are doing all we can to minimise risk,” he says.

Willowbrook was nearly booked out for July and half-full for August before it opened. The first round of post-opening holidaymakers have come and gone, but bookings are still coming.

“It is really refreshing to get back, and straight away people are recommending us to their friends. It is really great to hear people have come and enjoyed it here and felt safe here,” says Pollington.

“It is such a huge relief compared to when we were in lockdown and we really weren’t sure if we were going to get a season at all,” he adds.

People are urged to stay home this summer, with chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan saying he was “beyond nervous” about the danger of importing Covid-19 as people return from holidays abroad.

The lockdown was “extremely challenging” for Whitfield and Pollington on many fronts, not least because the restrictions forced them to postpone their own wedding.

Willowbrook opened little more than a year ago as an upgraded glamping site and before Covid-19 struck it had expected business would rise significantly on the back of Fáilte Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands campaign.

Formerly an ad-hoc campsite owned by Whitfield’s parents, the couple elevated the site for glamping by installing luxury hideaway huts, a woodfired pizza oven, a jacuzzi and campfire pit.

“The costs aren’t huge because we now own the place, so we probably weren’t hit as bad as a lot of places. But we have invested a lot of money into the place, so I guess this has just slowed down our journey to breaking even again,” he adds.

Given Fáilte Ireland’s special staycation advertising campaign, the duo are now hopeful that “staycationers” will continue to book: “We’re very lucky to be one of the sectors that will benefit,” says Whitfield.