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Christmas breaks come as a gift to hospitality sector after lockdowns

Hoteliers report busy bookings, especially for ‘Twixtmas’ between Christmas and New Year

The Galgorm hotel in Co Antrim.

The Galgorm hotel in Co Antrim.

 

Last year’s Christmas turned out to be “meaningful” for all the wrong reasons. Families spent it apart, or together but afraid. Christmas dinners were left on doorsteps and windowsills. Festive hugs were delivered via Skype. Worst of all, Covid rates took off.

It’s why so much hope is pinned on this year. Though we know better than ever that nothing is assured, and everything can change in an instant, so far the augurs look good.

“Last year we closed in October and planned to open up on the 26th of December. We had wedding booked and families booked to get back together again but then the Kent variant put paid to that,” recalls Des O’Dowd, owner of Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa.

The hotel remained closed until June, a full 33 weeks after it closed. This Christmas will be different, he predicts.

“We’ll be back open again and we expect lots of multigenerational families will be getting back together again. It will be an emotional time. It won’t be flashy, it won’t be bling, it will be about getting back to what’s important and what we know now is that spending quality time with people we love is what is important.”

The run-up to Christmas, and the ‘Twixtmas’ season, between St Stephen’s Day and New Year’s Day, are among the busiest times of the year for many hotels.

Twixtmas

Christmas is the only day of the year that Johnstown Estate in Enfield, Co Meath, is closed for accommodation. But bookings after that have skyrocketed. “Demand for this year’s Twixtmas breaks is unbelievable,” says general manager Anthony Smiddy, who says 75 per cent of its Twixtmas packages were booked out by mid-August.

“What went first were the suites and the family rooms. People want to treat themselves and they want space, they’ve been cooped up for far too long and want to get out and engage with friends and family, and they want an experience,” he adds.

At the Central Hotel in Donegal town, which in normal circumstances opens for Christmas each year, staff and management were on tenterhooks waiting to hear what restrictions the Government might lift in early September.

“Normally we’d have our brochure out by this stage, but we had to wait to see what the Government was going to say about live music,” explains sales and marketing manager Elaine McInaw.

“We’re a very entertainment-driven hotel, with lots of live music, and Christmas is a very entertainment-driven time. It looks, subject to guidelines and restrictions, like we’re good to go.”

Even before the latest Government announcements, December was shaping up to be a bumper month for the Donegal hotel. “Even in early December we’re heavily booked already, with couples, families and multigenerational families wanting to stay. People want to get away and catch up with friends and families,” adds McInaw.

Wellness packages

The Station House in Clifden’s bookings bear this out. It closes on Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day but is already heavily booked for many dates in December, thanks to a mix of Christmas parties and winter weddings.

General manager Patrick Guinane reckons its new wellness packages, which it is running throughout November, will be just the fillip people need before Christmas too. “We believe there is a huge appetite for health and wellness, but a lot of the offerings out there are expensive, so we’ve positioned ours very strongly to make them accessible,” he explains.

One hotel which has declared for Christmas is Galgorm in Co Antrim. Its Winter Wonderland break gives guests a chance to get away from it all from December 24th-26th, be entertained, meet Santa and overindulge in wonderful festive cuisine in luxury surroundings.

It’s a Christmas gift of a break, packed with festive cocktails, canapes and carol singers, seasonal afternoon tea, spiced mulled wine and hot chocolate.

Tuck into a Christmas Eve dinner in Gillies Grill with after-dinner entertainment in McKendry’s. Those looking for a quiet night can tiptoe off to bed with hot chocolate and mince pies before Father Christmas arrives.

Christmas Day kicks off with a traditional Irish breakfast plus bucks fizz, followed by a five-course Christmas lunch in what is arguably Ireland’s most Christmassy resort.

Staff at the Lyrath Hotel in Kilkenny are mulling over their plans. “We don’t open at Christmas normally and had actually been thinking of introducing it this year, but now we reckon it’s probably not the time to do it for the first time,” says Orla Byrne, its director of sales and marketing.

On the other hand, the property has experienced a major spike in bookings for the period immediately after Christmas. “Our Twixtmas packages are in huge demand, we’re nearly fully booked already,” she says.

The fact that restrictions are lifting to the extent they are is being welcomed by both hotels and guests alike. “It looks like we are good to go, with masks and common sense,” says Byrne. The property has a 1,000-seater ballroom, which offers massive capacity and good opportunities for social distancing. It now looks set for a busy festive season.

Office parties

That’s because Byrne believes Christmas parties will make a comeback in a big way. “Who is going to say no to an invite this year?” she asks. It’s not just people starved of social interaction, but office staff operating without opportunities to see one another.

Not alone has working from home moved mainstream, but many employers have taken advantage of it by reducing their office footprint and saving on overheads.

“We’ve a lot of corporate clients who have told us they decided to let go some of their office space. Because of blended working, and home working, they realised they only really needed hot desks,” explains Byrne.

The commercial property sector’s challenge looks set to be the hospitality sector’s opportunity, and not just at Christmas, she reckons.

“For years I’d go out to corporate clients and meet with them in meeting rooms so high tech as to put the conference sector to shame. But now that they’ve reduced their office footprint and got rid of them. Now if they want to get everyone together again they are going to have to go back to the old way of having meetings in hotels, which is great for hotels,” she says.

In the meantime, with live music and dancing set to resume, there’s growing reason for good cheer this Christmas. “It looks like it could be a fun winter, which we all need,” she says.