Holidaying at home turns into expensive nightmare

 

Despite its difficulties, the tourist industry has done little to persuade Irish holidaymakers to stay at home, writes ANN MARIE HOURIHANE

GIVEN THE number of studies commissioned – the latest by the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation – and the kilos of analysis, you would not think that there was any aspect of Irish tourism which lay unreported. But no one has written about last week’s mass movement, which flooded our cities and towns with refugees from the Irish countryside.

These poor wretches limped home unannounced, their camping gear untouched, the dog deafened by the rain pounding on the roof of the car. The teenagers had managed to improve their pool skills to an unhealthy level, and daddies showed a worrying familiarity with the Sky weather girls.

“Ah, there’s Lucy,” said the daddies as they settled back into their armchairs. Lucy was wearing a pencil skirt and standing in front of a map of black cloud. “Thank God we’re home.” It had all started so well.

But reports were soon coming back to headquarters of deserted pubs, expensive food – €17.50 for a bowl of prawn pasta, accompanied by a salad strewn with corn – and dirty cinemas in which even Toy Story 3could not lift the gloom. The putative campers had fled to one of Ireland’s overanalysed hotels (€100 per night for one adult plus teenager, dinner not included). The idea was to sit out the rain clouds, but the weather was soon causing rising panic. “We can’t see the mountains,” rapidly became “we can’t see the sea,” and ended up as “we can’t see the other side of the street”.

Even the drive home – four and a half days ahead of schedule – was remarkable for the amount of despairing foreign cyclists resting on the breasts of hills. On the approach to Dublin, thunder and lightning lit up the M50. It was holiday apocalypse.

One woman said she was dreading going to Kerry again and really could not face it – she did not mention the fact that, actually, her kids were still there and she was meant to be collecting them. Her friend was unsympathetic, saying that her abiding memory of an Irish holiday was of standing on a beautiful windswept beach in August wearing most of her winter clothes.

But other former Irish holidaymakers were more kindly, sharing memories of their holiday cottage in Clare, in which the rain ran down the flex of the central light fitting in the living room, and the water in the taps was so hot that they could let no child go to the bathroom unaccompanied. That Clare holiday was so bad and so expensive that it has had a strong bonding effect on the family which endured it. Siblings look at each other with wry smiles as they remember; cousins have only to mutter the name of the tax-incentivised holiday village in which their death trap of a bungalow stood to realise the close ties of kinship. This year they rented a villa in the south of France much more cheaply; they had a wonderful time.

Any criticism of the Irish tourist industry is usually taken as a slur on the locality concerned, but that family knows better. Their late, adored mother was from just outside the town where they rented the holiday bungalow. They are therefore fully aware that the local farmers used to refer to the business people of the same resort town as “Those thieving b******s in ------.” And that was in the 1940s.

This time last year I wrote about that Clare bungalow in a column on the lack of foreign tourists in Ireland. The writing was on the wall then, even for the most casual observer. Local people were already predicting for the Irish tourist industry nothing less than 100,000 disasters. However, the Irish tourist industry did little in the intervening 12 months to make us holiday at home.

One young mother, who wants to holiday in Ireland, could not afford to rent a holiday home at €800 per week. Cruising on the Shannon was also prohibitively expensive. The ash cloud prevented her from booking a villa in Portugal for the second time – €350 per week, with cheap flights and great food at the local restaurants. So she booked into a child-friendly hotel in Ireland. In fact it was so child-friendly that it was pretty crowded.

“Breakfast was hell,” she said cheerfully. The hotel was also dirty and in poor repair, she says. It was €360 for herself and her sister to stay for three nights and four days – her nine-year-old came free. The kid had a great time and for this the adults were grateful. But there were charges at every turn: €3 to play mini-golf, €4 to ride the mechanical bucking bronco, €4 to have the use of inflatable toys in the swimming pool, and so on. “If I’d had more than one child I can’t imagine how expensive it would have been,” she says.

This young woman is a single parent. These are her post-tax euros we’re talking about. However, the hotel charges are entirely consistent with a tourist industry which charges for everything – every refill of coffee, every slice of bread, even for the privilege of looking at the Cliffs of Moher. The most surprising thing about the crisis is that we’ve any tourists left at all.

It’s like this, lads: we’ve lousy weather and we’re very expensive. One of those things has got to change. If the Minister needs a further report on the state of Irish tourism, then I am available.