The new year is looking a lot brighter than the gloomy one we are about to unceremoniously kick out the back door with a vengeance. There are bright new horizons to look forward to as a breakthrough vaccine relaxes borders and the jackboot is slowly lifted off our downbeat spirits.
Fortunately, the Government’s Stay and Spend scheme is available until the end of April 2021. We can look forward to treating ourselves to a welcome short winter break after foregoing the chance of a foreign holiday last summer. Many of us would be happy enough to enjoy a small weekend break closer to home rather than a more adventurous trip to the red zones abroad.
The Stay and Spend tax incentive concept encourages us to spend money in an Irish hotel, guesthouse or restaurant by giving us a tax rebate on a portion of the money we spend. The maximum amount of money or tax credit we can claim back is €125 on a spend of €625 with a minimal expenditure amount of €25. The deal becomes more attractive with two people as you are eligible for €250 back on a total spend of €1,250. There is an app called Revenue Receipts Tracker which you can download to take photos of your hotel or dinner receipts and upload them to your account for the tax year 2020 or 2021.
Ireland’s Blue Book offers a star-studded guide to some of Ireland’s most beautiful destinations from Kevin and Catherine Dundon’s Dunbrody House in the Hook Peninsula to the gastronomic gardens of Ballymaloe, the home of Darina Allen’s legendary kitchen and the famous cookery school in Cork. These have all signed up to the scheme.
Rathmullan House is also on the Blue Book country house guide and the gardens stretch out along the splendid shores of Lough Swilly in Donegal. The outdoor activities from fishing to pony trekking also make it an ideal spot to relax and indulge. The Georgian building has a stunning lakeside vista and the owners are also offering an extra incentive to guests: a €50 credit voucher that can be used for dining in the hotel which makes a big saving when added to your tax rebate. They also offer a personal shopping guide for Donegal crafts and gifts from stunning indigenous tweeds and linens to hand-painted ceramics and landscape paintings.
Another luxury hotel, this time in Dublin, is the Dylan Hotel – a bijou boutique with lots of glamour and yet lots of value too. They do a fabulous platter of fish and chips as well as a la carte options with delicious chocolate brownie or mango cheesecake desserts and have an extensive wine list.
Around the corner by the Royal Canal you will find another gem for those who love a good steak or barbecued fish. Asador is a restaurant that takes its culinary inspiration from the Portuguese and Argentinian tradition for flame cooking on iron grills called parillas. The barbecued flavour and top-quality cuts of meat make it a popular haunt so it’s a good idea to book in advance.
The scheme is a small reward for our forbearance in this tough year. As expected, however, the “demon drink” is not deemed to be an eligible spend so you won’t be claiming back 20 per cent of your bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape or a few takeaway pints!
Elaina Fitzgerald Kane is the president of the Irish Hotels Federation and she believes it would be good if the Stay and Spend incentive was extended beyond April as the scheme has been a victim of timing and lockdowns.
“It never really got going due to the lockdowns. As a sector support it was a nice gesture to the public to offer them a thank you for their patience through these times but it was impossible to get it off the ground with the doors closed on most establishments. However, I think it now would be better if the benefits were felt at the till rather than just within a tax benefit which rules out a number of our citizens. In the UK, where the cash was paid back at the checkout, it did very well and encouraged a lot of midweek business.”
Fitzgerald Kane also believes there may be a way to enhance the concept in the new year. “Another option for the Government would be to increase the tax-free limit on the €500 gift voucher option by another few hundred euro,” she said, which could be spent on hospitality and eating out.
“If they upped the gift vouchers to €750 then this would be a better reward that would reach more people.”
Fitzgerald Kane is no stranger to the hotel and catering world. Her family own the beautiful Woodlands House Hotel in Adare, Co Limerick and she has been working for 20 years in the hospitality sector. She hopes that business will swing back in the new year.
Irish guesthouses also qualify for the Stay and Spend scheme. We are fortunate to have super guesthouses in Ireland with many so well kitted-out that they fit into the petite hotel niche too. McGettigan's Townhouse at Arran Quay is a luxury five-star gem within walking distance of the capital's top sightseeing spots. It captures a sense of old-style grandeur with modern technology and luxury. The Sandymount Hotel is another great hideaway based on Herbert Road in Dublin 4 that offers super service and accommodation close to the Dart and the Aviva Stadium. The award-winning hotel is also popular with locals who avail of the spacious child-friendly gardens as well as a covered front patio with tables for enjoying a mulled wine or a coffee.
Further afield there is the Skellig Hotel in Dingle, Co Kerry if you are on the last search for our beloved Fungie. In Dingle town you can avail of the best restaurants from the amazing Chart House with its fresh catch of the day or Fentons Restaurant on Green Street. For a low-cost pizza check out the Blue Zone opposite St Johns Church for a casual meal or takeaway.
Greenmount House is a family-run establishment with Gary Curran at the helm of this delightful and well-priced boutique home from home. They offer a heart-warming full Irish breakfast and the morning restaurant has a gorgeous view of Dingle Harbour and is a five-minute stroll to the town centre.
After the stress and anxiety of a pandemic year we could all do with a therapeutic break in the safe environment of an Irish house hotel.
The Stay and Spend scheme has had little chance to be utilised this year due to Covid restrictions, however with more relaxed times in the pipeline there is an opportunity to cash in your chips before April 30th, and with 1,600 establishments signed up there is a wealth of choices available.
The full list of 1,600 participating guesthouses, restaurants and hotels is available on Revenue's site.