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Strong domestic demand gives hospitality sector a boost

Absence of overseas visitors – particularly in urban areas – still a concern, however

Montenotte  hotel in Cork reopened on June 2nd

Montenotte hotel in Cork reopened on June 2nd

 

Summer 2021 got off to a late start for most in the hospitality sector but as the months progressed, a mix of eased restrictions with a strong desire from tourists to holiday at home saw hotels, self-catering properties, restaurants and bars report high visitor numbers.


There’s a wide range of activities to enjoy on Ireland’s waterways. Photograph: iStock

After a busy summer for the hospitality industry, Staycations magazine looks at whether the Autumn/WInter season looks set to continue this trend as restrictions ease.

Check out the Staycations magazine in full in Thursday's print edition of The Irish Times, via The Irish Times ePaper, or via The Irish Times special reports digital hub.


Brian Bowler, general manager of the Montenotte hotel in Cork, which reopened on June 2nd, said he was thrilled with the support from the domestic staycation market this year.

“It has been phenomenal this summer. The hotel and our self-catering apartments were very busy from opening in June right throughout the summer, which we expected they would be during the holiday periods. But we will see a sharp drop-off now as we head into September. So uncertainty remains in the hospitality sector in relation to business levels in the autumn/winter months, until all Covid-related restrictions are lifted and full international travel resumes,” he says.

Bowler says they are beginning to see some green shoots from the UK and US leisure market but with travel to and from the US still uncertain, it’s hard to predict.

“It’s small at the moment but there is considerable demand overall, especially from the US market to come and visit Ireland. We expect to have a very strong weekend business from September until year end but midweek will be tough as there continues to be a challenge with business tourism both nationally and internationally. We do expect the business tourism market to come back in force in 2022 which excites us greatly as we are the perfect hotel to welcome the corporate and incentive travel market,” he says.

The recent announcement of further easing of restrictions by the end of October has been welcomed by all sectors but the threat of lockdowns weighs heavily on people in the hospitality industry.

“I think we will be worried about additional lockdowns having experienced three of them at the hotel during a 15-month period. However, with the exceptionally high level of vaccination in Ireland, this should help to alleviate any chance of another. Continuous lockdowns have such a negative impact on the long-term viability of our industry, especially from a staffing and recruitment perspective,” he says.

Fáilte Ireland says there has been a mixed picture across destinations and sectors. “Coastal areas and traditional domestic hotspots performed well while our urban areas, which traditionally rely heavily on overseas visitors and business tourism, reported lower levels of occupancy,” said a representative. International travel opened up on July 19th but the return of overseas visitors has been a trickle. As strong as the domestic market may have been, the absence of overseas is a massive hit and predictions are that the industry will be in survival mode until 2022.

Sheepwalk House and Cottages in Avoca, Co Wicklow is run by ex-music publicist Jenny Headen. In February 2020 she moved to the property with her brother, with a view to launching in April that same year, but Covid put paid to that.

“We were able to open in fits and starts in 2020, and despite us being a very new business we saw huge demand for our place. With the suspension of travel abroad, self-catering seemed to be an appealing option for people. They could stay in their own bubble, have their own space with minimal shared common spaces and have a brilliant holiday,” she says.

Since opening their doors on June 4th, 2021, they have remained, for the most part, fully booked. “We have had a few cancellations, too, which is to be expected,” she says.

Coastal areas and traditional domestic hotspots performed well over the summer months
Coastal areas and traditional domestic hotspots performed well over the summer months

“Our smaller cottages are predominantly booked by families with kids, while the main house, which sleeps 16 people, has seen a mix of different groups, all keen to use their staycation to catch up with loved ones – multigenerational family get-togethers, groups of friends who haven’t seen each other in a year and a half, corporate retreats and birthdays. Of course, with groups that size there was a lot of caution exercised so the rollout of the vaccine programme saw people being much more confident about taking holidays,” she adds.

Headen says it’s hard to predict what people’s appetite for travelling abroad will be, but they are seeing increased enquiries for short breaks and weekend lets for get-togethers in autumn and family gatherings in the winter months, particularly around Christmas.

“We are always closely monitoring what’s happening in terms of restrictions, but with the vaccine rollout and people being more and more confident to return to some semblance of normality, it’s hard not to be a little optimistic that there won’t be any more lockdowns, but anything can happen,” she says.

Meanwhile, after a six-month closure, Dublin’s biggest tourist attraction, the Guinness Storehouse also reopened to visitors with a doubled in size Gravity Bar.

“Last year, with limited opening days, we welcomed over 70,000 visitors, the majority of these being from Ireland. We offered free entry to our frontline workers to thank them for their incredible work during the pandemic. Since July of this year we’ve welcomed many visitors from Ireland and a small number of visitors from the UK, the US and across Europe. The warmth of our welcome and the Fáilte Ireland Covid-19 Safety Charter Measures we have put in place has meant that we have received fantastic feedback from all our visitors,” Catherine Toolan, managing director of Guinness Storehouse says.

“Since the pandemic we’ve learned that there’s an ever-growing visitor desire for authentic experiences that allow them to feel like a true local.

“From this, it gave us an opportunity to build on our heritage in supporting culture in Ireland and create a platform for Dublin’s exciting culture to thrive. It was refreshing to see so many new faces and visitors come through our doors throughout the summer and experience what the Home of Guinness is offering,” she says.

“As we continue to see society being allowed to reopen and restrictions being eased, we are looking forward to building on the positive momentum we have seen since reopening. We are excited to welcome Irish and international visitors back and are looking forward to announcing an exciting programme of events for autumn and for Christmas as we get together and celebrate missed moments with friends and family,” she adds.

The staycation season has also been extremely busy for restaurants across Ireland, Adrian Cummins chief executive of the Restaurants Association Ireland says.

However, as schools reopen, “it’s inevitable business will drop off and it’s for that reason the Government must roll out an autumn staycation seasonal campaign backed up with a voucher programme”, he says.