Killarney prepares for summer despite hospitality staff shortage

Job vacancies abound in bars, restaurants and hotels as Kerry tourism restarts for season

Cllr Niall O’Callaghan: “I’m like other businesses in Killarney now. I don’t know if I am going to get to March.”  Photograph: Valerie O’Sullivan

Cllr Niall O’Callaghan: “I’m like other businesses in Killarney now. I don’t know if I am going to get to March.” Photograph: Valerie O’Sullivan

 

Depending on which jobs website is chosen, there are 243 or 244 jobs available in Killarney right now. All but a handful are in catering. Many are labelled urgent. Good English is required for most.

In Kenmare, over the June bank holiday weekend, the appeals for staff held a note of desperation: “Join us. Flexible hours. Positions available in all departments,” the ads in the local free sheet the Kenmare News declare.

The Intreo office in Killarney – the single point of contact for the public for all jobs and income supports – has never had as many vacancies available. Skilled chefs have been in short supply for a decade.

However, the vacancies go across nearly every element of the tourist industry – from people to keep hotel bedrooms clean, to jobs behind bars, to baristas, to jobs in pizza shops.

This year, a number of things have come together to bring the employment crisis to a head for Killarney – the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also changes to the pattern of immigration that Ireland has seen for nearly two decades.

Many of the Polish workers who arrived in Killarney and Kenmare after eastern European enlargement have now begun to return home, as their children near their First Communions – a major event for most Polish families.

Migrants depart

Immigrant families have told how they are unable to ever see themselves owning a home around Killarney, with the pandemic simply accelerating thoughts to go back home.

Tom Randles, owner of the four-star Randles Hotel on Muckross Road, opened a few days ahead of the official reopening ordered by the Government, but even then it was a year like no other.

Ross Castle, Killarney: Last year, the “staycation” summer left local tourist interests with buoyed bank accounts for the autumn, but this year the Irish Hotels Federation predicts a different story. Photograph: Valerie O’Sullivan
Ross Castle, Killarney: Last year, the “staycation” summer left local tourist interests with buoyed bank accounts for the autumn, but this year the Irish Hotels Federation predicts a different story. Photograph: Valerie O’Sullivan

“Traditionally we have a few weeks to build up the business from Valentine’s to the June bank holiday. But now we have had to go from zero to 150,” Randles says.

His staff are anxious to return, he says. Much of the work available across all hotels is part-time, with an early peak between 8am and 1pm, which suits many women with young families.

“We have a consistent staff who have been with us a long time. Nearly all have returned. People are happy to come back to work, to a schedule, to be with friends.”

The pandemic has added to the need for staff. Each room now needs an hour of cleaning, while Covid-19 dining rules means the hotel’s restaurant must open earlier and longer to comply with social distancing rules.

Insufficient subsidy

In the beating heart of Killarney’s College Street, near clubs, cafes and ice-cream parlours, Niall O’Callaghan runs the Fáilte Hotel with his mother Eileen. The last 15 months have been hard.

“We have no guests. But I am taking the staff back on a month early. If I don’t, my chef will be gone,” says O’Callaghan. He says some people are directly approaching staff with significant offers.

He lost money being closed and the subsidy offered by the State did not cover the cost of being closed: “I’m like other businesses in Killarney now. I don’t know if I am going to get to March,” says O’Callaghan, who is also an independent councillor.

Kerry County Council has been slow to prepare for summer, he complains, leaving local businesses to pay on their own for tables, umbrellas and dividers, while a call last year to convert a car park for outdoor dining is only now being acted upon.

O’Callaghan believes that people are trying to stay on the pandemic unemployment payment. A lot of the Polish have gone back, he notes, while a lot of the Irish “don’t want to go back to hospitality and catering”. Meanwhile, childcare costs are making it more difficult for women to take up jobs.

But how good will this summer be in Killarney? Last year, the “staycation” summer left local tourist interests with buoyed bank accounts for the autumn, but this year the Irish Hotels Federation predicts a different story.

A survey between June 1st and June 3rd by the federation indicated that local hoteliers will have 55 per cent occupancy for July, but this will plummet in August from last year’s 77 per cent occupancy to just 45 per cent.