The current crisis has hit the global tourism industry hard with the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) predicting that up to 75 million tourism jobs will be lost globally.
Hundreds of job losses are predicted for towns that rely heavily on tourism, such as Kinsale, and some businesses are predicting that they may simply not survive.
Kinsale is moving quickly to turn attention to recovery, however, with the town’s response plan to help alleviate the impacts of Covid-19 well underway following the announcement of an ambitious Kinsale Comeback Campaign.
Kinsale has proven itself to be a resilient and successful tourism destination over the years with its position on the Wild Atlantic Way as a gateway to West Cork putting the town at the forefront of Ireland's tourism recovery.
Both locals and businesses in Kinsale have consistently adapted to deliver memorable and unique visitor experiences over the years during shoulder seasons by introducing unique experiences to actively engage with new markets and by embracing new trends based on ongoing research.
The Kinsale Chamber of Tourism and Business is confident in their ability to re-imagine the town’s future and to deliver on its Kinsale Comeback Campaign.
Kinsale Chamber of Tourism and Business board member and owner of Blue Haven Hotel, Ciarán Fitzgerald, said that the Kinsale Comeback Campaign will take a phased approach to reopening the town over the coming months in line with the Government’s recommendations around travel restrictions and social distancing with each phase targeting a different audience.
“The Kinsale Comeback Campaign is basically a marketing plan to roadmap us out of the current crisis, targeting different audiences as the town opens back up,” he said.
“The response to it has been hugely positive, so much so the Chamber is after getting a whole host of new members this week because people want to be part of it. People have really got behind it,” he said.
The campaign will target three main audiences as travel restrictions are eased over the coming months: Family and friends wanting to reconnect; millennials determined to see the world again; and cocooners wanting to spread their wings again.
The Kinsale Comeback Campaign is communicating the message that the town offers cross generation options for all the family as travel restrictions are eased and extended families reconnect with each other, travelling and staying within the country for short trips as extended family groups make up for missed birthdays and special occasions.
The campaign is also targeting millennials who currently represent the largest travel target market and view travel as a priority with the average millennial, aged 21 to 37, planning to take approximately five trips each year, three of which are expected to be international.
Kinsale is highlighting its quirky environment and on-trend food dynamic to attract young people who will have an increased appetite for travel once restrictions are lifted.
The town has always attracted the semi-retired market, and with elderly people primed to travel for short breaks and treat themselves having been cocooning for weeks, the Kinsale Comeback campaign is targeting a market with a pre-existing awareness of the town.
Mr Fitzgerald, who has also been drafted in as part of the Cork Tourism Recovery Taskforce, said: “We’re going to move the plan through four phases and as each target market opens up, we’ll have a plan ready to go aimed at that target market and target demographic and that will be done over a four to six month period.” “In a time of uncertainty, a concrete roadmap is always a really good thing. It’s given people something to tie into and believe in and it gives people a bit of hope.
“A couple of weeks ago people didn’t know when or how their business was going to reopen but when the town launched a roadmap to recovery, it gave people a sense of togetherness and that we will get through it,” he said.
Mr Fitzgerald said that Cork County Council “have been amazing” and are open to the campaign and helping businesses get back on their feet.
He said that a recent meeting of the Town Team, comprising Cork County Council, An Garda Síochána, local businesses, Age Friendly and a number of other bodies, was “extremely positive”.
The Town Team is tasked with coming up with a reopening plan based around infrastructure and the mechanics of how towns will work with the council going forward.
“It was amazing to see all the key stakeholders of the town who care about the town and who want to get it back open but not only just for business, but for the local community and the elderly. It was a very good conversation that we had about how to get businesses back on track but also have the town functioning in a safe manner,” he said.
Kinsale Chamber of Tourism and Business has also proposed looking at pedestrianising some of the town on a trial basis and capturing table and chair space in areas where there was previously car park spaces.
This would give bars, cafés and restaurants more space outside their premises to make up for the lost space inside due to two metre social distancing.
“The town engineer has come up with a fantastic plan for trial pedestrianisation and also taking some of the street car parking spaces and turning them into areas for outside dining. They have been completely open to it and they have actually led the way with this,” Mr Fitzgerald said.
Councillor Marie O’Sullivan who owns a café in Kinsale labelled the Kinsale Comeback Campaign as “a very good opportunity” which the town can use to prove to Cork County Council that outside dining is a good idea for businesses going forward.
The Bandon-Kinsale Councillor said the Council are “really playing ball” and being innovative in supporting businesses and that the Local Authority “needs to dilute the planning laws and be more flexible in terms of allowing businesses to expand their external areas outside their premises”.
“That’s one of the important things, we need to look at the planning regulations and help businesses along in that way,” she said.
She said that every business, including her own, is facing “real acute challenges” when they reopen.
“At the moment I’m open as a takeaway and we are just paying our way, I’m not making money.
“It breaks my heart, I’d have a lot of older people who would come in for their coffee and I can’t let them sit down at the moment and that is really hard to say to somebody in their 70s or 80s, “I’m sorry you can’t sit down”. It just doesn’t seem right.” But she said it’s very important to have a presence on the street for people to see that Kinsale is starting to reopen.
“When people see small local businesses reopening it lifts the spirits of everybody.”
Cllr O’Sullivan said that a private initiative to create more dining space on the streets of Kinsale led by local architect Marc O’Riain is “a solution that will have to be looked at” and will have to take into consideration space and health and safety issues.
The street pods that Mr O’Riain has developed offer a potential solution to businesses that require more capacity in order to trade upon reopening their doors.
“I admire anybody who thinks outside the box and it’s the solution that will have to be looked at because it’s like any business, there’s so many rules and regulations incorporated.”
She said that the concept of the street pods would have to be looked at “long term” and that council engineers are the “experts” in the field who will make the decisions going forward.
Speaking about the next steps of the Kinsale Comeback Campaign, Cllr O’Sullivan said that the Chamber are a “very forward thinking group” who are incorporating most businesses in the town and taking into account all stakeholders.
“They’re representative of all age groups and the needs of people going forward and work as a community to get through Covid-19 and post-Covid,” she said.
Local architect Marc O'Riain and builder Brian O’Regan have led the way on a private-led initiative after being inspired by the town’s plans to pedestrianise certain areas and capture car park spaces to make room for outdoor dining.
Together they have developed and built a prototype of a street pod, an idea which derived from wanting to help local businesses increase their capacity outdoors.
The pair set up streetpod.ie after Mr O’Riain spoke with some local business owners about their concerns about reopening at significantly less capacity.
“Businesses might find it difficult to fit their customers in their existing premises and provide for social distancing so this is extra space in car parking space outside of their businesses that they could use and people could feel very secure in the units,” he said.
The pods can fit a family or group of up to six people comfortably and is made of a timber frame at the moment but builder Brian O’Regan said that the next phase is to make them out of steel in order to be more robust and easier to move.
“There’s a lot of resources going into it regarding materials and sustainable material as well so that’s going to be very important. I can get a sheeting covering that will last for 50 years and it’s Irish-based. I want it all sustainable and it is all interchangeable as well. It’s a flexible building.
“These can be moved so you can actually take it away for the winter and store them somewhere else. With the signage on it then you could get sponsorship so it’s good marketing too,” he said.
Mr O’Regan who runs the family business OR Construction alongside his father Bernard O’Regan who is “working away like a demon” on this project also said that the pods will be useful when social distancing becomes a distant memory.
“If you had a festival in a town and even had 20 of these to put around the place it would make an awful difference to local businesses.” The council is currently examining any planning barriers to using the pods, but Mr O'Riain said he is “confident” that the pods categorise as a mobile unit.
Mr O’Riain and Mr O’Regan are currently developing the second generation of the street pods, addressing levelling, reducing door size, and weight.
Kinsale Chamber of Tourism and Business board member Ciarán Fitzgerald said that they “are open to all initiatives and ideas” and think it is “fantastic that people are thinking outside the box and trying to come up with innovative solutions”.
He said that public reaction to the street pods has been “positive” and that it has started a conversation about an outside the box solution for businesses.