Many of Cork’s hotels and guesthouses have reopened their doors to guests after almost four months of closure and many others are set to reopen from mid-July onward.
Under the Government’s roadmap to reopening society and business, the hospitality sector came back to life on Monday, June 29 under guidelines that have become the new norm.
With the opening of the sector, many hotels reopened their doors and checked in their first guests on Monday last but for others, a lack of bookings became a concern and many of Cork’s city centre hotels made the decision not to reopen their doors until later this month.
Hotels in many of Cork’s coastal towns offering large family rooms and seaside views are appealing to those wishing to take a staycation with some reporting an expected 60% to 80% occupancy rate, catering for a market that was one of their most popular pre-Covid.
For others, relying solely on the domestic market for the remainder of the summer with the wipeout of international tourism and lack of large corporates coming to the city is not sustainable.
Cork’s hotels and guesthouses are now left with the reality of sharing one small market, a market which only lasts until September, which leaves hotels with the issue of there not being enough business for everyone.
Cork Chair of the Irish Hotel Federation (IHF) and general manager of The Kingsley Hotel, Fergal Harte, said that “it is definitely a big concern” for city hotels.
He said that the decision for some hotels not to open until mid-July and August was made because business “just isn’t there”, with everyone focused on the domestic market due to the lack of international and corporate tourism coming into the city.
The Kingsley reopened its doors on Monday to “plenty of interest” but Mr Harte said that bookings were slow to pick up until about a week to 10 days before the big reopening.
In normal circumstances, the hotel caters for 60 to 70% corporate bookings and remains popular for short city breaks also.
General Manager of The Metropole Hotel north of the River Lee, Roger Russell, said that the hotel “will be doing well at 30% occupancy” and is not receiving enough bookings ahead of reopening on July 13 to salvage what is left of the season.
He said that the real concern will come after the summer months when shoulder season hits, leaving a question mark over business for the next 12 months.
General Manager of Cork International Hotel, Carmel Lonergan, has said that she expects to operate at an occupancy of between 10% to 30% for the months of July and August and said that Cork’s hoteliers need to work together as a community in order to make Cork an attractive destination for people to spend their staycations.
A slice of heaven on Kinsale’s doorstep, The Blue Haven Hotel, enjoys an “extremely loyal local trade” which director Ciarán Fitzgerald said he is “confident” will attract the Irish market with a goal to gain customers for life.
He said that the fishing town and its offerings will attract people from different parts of the country with a number of enquiries for larger bookings being made as of recent.
Meanwhile, in scenic West Cork, The Celtic Ross Hotel is offering 35 to 38 of its rooms in the first week of reopening and 40 to 45 of its rooms in the second week of reopening in a “staged approach to get used to protocols”.
General Manager Neil Grant said that the hotel which usually runs at 92% and over occupancy at this time of the year welcomes 72% Irish guests and 28% overseas guests year round.
Although the outcome of the summer’s domestic market may differ from hotel to hotel, all are looking forward to reopening and welcoming back their dedicated teams and supportive guests who can be reassured that the utmost has been done to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable break away after months in lockdown.
Some of Cork’s most popular spots have shared the measures put in place in order to reopen, what is forecast for the coming months and year ahead and the struggles that lie ahead, and what their guests can expect when visiting.
The Kingsley Hotel by the River Lee reopened its doors on Monday to “plenty of interest” but General Manager of the hotel, Fergal Harte, said that bookings were slow to pick up until about a week to 10 days before opening its doors for the first time in months.
In normal circumstances, the hotel caters for 60% to 70% corporate bookings and remains popular for short city breaks throughout the year but the hotel is set to take a hit with the lack of business tourism and international tourism this year.
Mr Harte said that although bookings have been picking up since reopening all 131 rooms and 19 apartments, the expectation is that more rural locations would book up first and that the cities would start to pick up as other towns and rural locations become booked up.
The lack of bookings for city centre hotels to date has led to the decision of many hoteliers not to reopen until mid-July, a decision which the Cork Chair of the Irish Hotel Federation (IHF) said was taken because “business, particularly for the cities, just isn’t there”.
Mr Harte said that the IHF is “hopeful” that bookings for city hotels will pick up during what is an already difficult time for the industry as a whole.
“From my own perspective, that’s what we would like to see happen and it’ll be a case of taking all of this one step at a time.
“There aren't international tourists coming in and the corporate side of things is quiet for the summer anyway, everyone is focused on the domestic market,” he said.
“We’re at less than 20% occupancy for July and August at the moment. We would normally expect to achieve 95% occupancy in these months.
“We’re operating in a very challenging market. The fact that there are practically no international guests and greatly reduced corporate and social activity generally, means that all hotels are competing for a slice of the same domestic market. That said, Irish hotels offer a genuinely excellent standard of service and quality product, so it’s a great opportunity for Irish people to shop around for some great value offers,” he said.
Although many of the hotel’s wedding bookings took the decision to move their dates to next year, a number of dates were held for couples over the course of the remainder of this year and the team will be working closely with the brides and grooms “in order to do everything we can to make their day as special and enjoyable as possible” while complying with regulations.
Mr Harte said that it was a “relief” to be able to reopen after “such a strange and uncertain time for everyone connected to the hotel”.
He said that the success of the new riverside takeaway, Bean & River, which opened a few weeks ago has been fantastic but that “there’s nothing like being able to open the hotel properly”.
Although the hotel and service standards were adapted to ensure the safety of staff and guests, the team was also “anxious to maintain the welcome, friendliness and service that the hotel is known for”.
He said that staff have taken to the changes professionally and with flexibility and have been met with a positive response from guests who have been compliant with all guidelines.
The hotel’s location next to the River Lee and walkway to the Lee Fields, a short stroll into the city centre and the easy access to the rest of the county from its location on Carrigrohane Road makes it a popular spot for both city explorers and those looking to take a road trip, with car parking facilities at the hotel an added bonus.
General Manager of The Metropole Hotel north of the River Lee said that while the hotel is receiving bookings ahead of reopening on July 13, that there is not enough to salvage the season and that a question mark hangs over business for the remainder of the year.
Roger Russell said that while people are concerned about the lack of numbers during the summer months due to the wipeout of international and corporate tourism, that the real problem lies after the holiday season from September onward which is off season for the hospitality industry.
“We'll do our best to have as good a summer as we possibly can which isn’t going to be great by any means but what’s going to happen after the summer from September on? There still won't be any visitors coming in and that’s a big worry. That’s our off season so the money that’s made during the summer is what sees us through the off season when we’re not making money so it’s a very difficult 12 months ahead,” he said.
The hotel’s clientele which is predominantly international and domestic tourism with a certain amount of corporate during the summer months shifts to more corporate bookings and less leisure bookings from autumn through to the winter months.
Reliance is on the domestic market, and the success of which depends on peoples’ willingness to take a staycation, has meant less demand at the hotel which usually operates “at about 90% occupancy” during the summer months.
The hotel “will be doing well at 30% occupancy” over the next couple of months and said that although the advice from officials not to take foreign holidays will make people consider their travel plans and support local, that the “season is gone”.
“The season is gone. Domestic tourism will help but it won’t save it. There isn't enough business to go around. We’re not going to make a profit this summer and if the Wage Subsidy Scheme wasn’t there, we’d be in big trouble so the Government’s support is essential at this time too.” All bedrooms in the hotel are available to sell from July 13 and the staff have been brought back to have the place spick and span ahead of reopening the doors under new guidelines which have seen the sanitization of the hotel and its restaurant, the deep cleaning of the kitchens, and the spacing of tables at the restaurant which opens on July 8.
The hotel’s latest offering of a new coffee and crepe bar on recently pedestrianised Harley Street which was once a “rabbit run for traffic” continues to attract people and is part of a wider ongoing plan for the further enhancing of Victorian Quarter and the surrounding area.
Mr Russell looks forward to welcoming back both his team and his guests after four long months of closure and John Coleman who recently received the prestigious title of Concierge of the Year for Munster and Ireland at the Irish Hotel Awards is on standby to greet guests with a welcoming smile.
“Hospitality is the kind of industry that you do because you love people and you love looking after people and making people feel welcome and we’re excited to have people back in the place, have the buzz back and have a chat and a bit of craic with the guests,” he said.
Cork’s community of hoteliers and business owners need to work together and “collaborate as a destination” in order to benefit from the domestic market over the remainder of the summer months.
General Manager of Cork International Hotel, Carmel Lonergan, has highlighted the importance of working as a community and increasing Cork’s offerings as a destination to people researching and booking a staycation.
“People are being more considerate about what the community offers rather than just the hotel property when booking a staycation.
“That’s really why Cork hotels and Cork tourism need to collaborate together as a destination because people are looking at destinations first. I may be a hotelier just outside the city centre but I need to work with Kinsale, West Cork, the city centre and a huge number of different people around us to show what we have to offer.” She said that local businesses have been impacted hugely by Covid-19 and that people who are now reconsidering their travel plans should take into consideration supporting local.
“Everybody is going to be impacted by this and as a hotel, we also support a lot of companies around Cork whether it’s the butcher, fishmonger, or the linen companies, tourism feeds into everything. We really need to think about supporting local and think about that in regards to our holiday destinations as well.” Ms Lonergan is expecting between 10% and 30% occupancy at the 145-bed hotel over the months of July and August and said that the real worry is September once people return to school and the holiday season is over.
She said that the many hotels have taken a heavy hit with the wipe out of business tourism and corporates coming to Cork and the lack of international tourism and said that “everybody now has to take a share” of one small market.
Anyone who makes a reservation at the hotel or the restaurant will have their details stored for one month before being deleted for contact tracing purposes and staff who move departments within the hotel will also have their details taken.
Ms Lonergan said that she looks forward to welcoming customers back to the friendly, team-driven, community hotel for the first official check-ins in over three almost four months.
The hotel recently ran a competition in aid of The Rainbow Club Cork Centre which saw a family from Killarney win an exclusive stay at the hotel over the weekend of July 10 which Ms Lonergan said will prepare the team for the official reopening three days later.
Although there has been “so much uncertainty” and difficult periods of adjusting to the new norm, the hotel has been deep cleaned and risk assessed, touch points and the length of time spent physically with guests have been reduced, perspex screens have been installed in the bar area and shuttle bus, and the Sunday Buffet Lunch for which the hotel’s restaurant is fondly known for will be back with a difference.
“We’re always a tight knit family up here but this has really cemented that and peoples’ commitment to wanting the business to succeed has been surreal.
“It’s been hard on so many different levels but we’ve actually learned a lot as well as a team about ourselves and about each other too. It won’t be easy and government assistance and what they announce for the industry is what I'm focusing on at the moment and I have a a great team focusing on the operation,” she said.
The foundation of The Blue Haven Hotel in Kinsale is its “extremely loyal local trade” which the hotel experiences all year round.
The hotel also welcomes daytrippers from Cork city and the summer months sees a high percentage of Americans, British and Europeans visit the hotel.
Despite the loss of international tourism, director of The Blue Haven Hotel, Ciarán Fitzgerlad, said he is “confident” that the hotel will attract the Irish market with a goal in mind to gain customers for life.
A number of enquiries for larger bookings later in the summer have been made and enquiries about birthdays, christenings and special occasions missed during lockdown have been made for the winter months but despite the positive outlook, bookings are nothing like what the hotel had pre-Covid.
Mr Fitzgerald said that a focus has been shifted to supporting local since Covid-19 and that he is hopeful that Irish people will holiday in Kinsale, spend money at home and “see what a fantastic country we live in with some of the most spectacular natural beauty, food, produce, culture and entertainment on our doorstep”.
The Kinsale Comeback plan, which Mr Fitzgerald has been highly involved in, has been designed to target different markets and demographics both in Cork and further afield and show people what Kinsale and surrounding areas have to offer both as a tourist destination and as an open door to West Cork.
The campaign sees businesses working together to achieve a collective goal of saving and supporting the town’s businesses and tourism offerings.
Mr Ftzgerald said it was “enlightening” to see the community rally together to protect the elderly and vulnerable during Covid-19 and to see shut restaurants supplying food for those most vulnerable, to see the community school turn into a PPE manufacturing facility, and see everyone put their shoulder to the wheel in driving the comeback campaign.
All bedrooms in both The Blue Haven Hotel and its sister property The Old Bank House were opened for use on Friday after a successful trial run with six rooms on Thursday night last and bookings have picked up for the coming week but Mr Fitzgerald said hotels got the short lead when opening dates were changed from July 20 to early July as it was “always going to be more last minute to sell”.
He said that guests are used to living differently over the last almost four months and are respectful of the fact that staff are too learning and adjusting every day.
Mr Fitzgerald is welcoming back his customers with a full team of over one hundred staff members which he said are the “engine of the business” and is currently recruiting across a number of different areas and said he looks forward to making the most of what’s left of the year.
“There is no point thinking about what's lost. We need to look forward and make the most of it. The loss of international business won't be replaced but this year it's about promoting our product to the Irish market and welcoming back guests who have stayed here before and who know us and feel safe and secure here.
“One thing that may come out of this is that Irish guests statistically return very often to places they have stayed before so if we can impress new guests this year we might get new customers for life that may not have come to Kinsale or The Blue Haven before but because they can’t travel internationally, chose us this year. A repeat customer is the ultimate compliment for us,” he said.
The Celtic Ross Hotel in West Cork’s scenic Rosscarbery has enjoyed a steady amount of bookings ahead of reopening its rooms to accommodate those taking a staycation from Thursday, July 9.
The hotel’s location in West Cork makes it a popular destination for those looking to take a break over the remainder of the summer months, a market which proves popular each year with the hotel usually welcoming 72% domestic tourism.
Although the West Cork hotel may be more popular among holiday makers, business levels are substantially low year on year with occupancy down by 40% in July and 20% to 30% in August.
The hotel usually welcomes over 50s in in the off-peak season and although over 50s seem cautious about travelling domestically, General Manager Neil Grant said the team feels “confident” that protocols will make for a safe and relaxing stay.
The hotel is opening with 35 to 38 of its rooms in the first week of reopening and 40 to 45 of its rooms in the second week of reopening in a “staged approach to get used to protocols” and all weddings have moved to later this year or next year.
“Whilst there is no doubt that West Cork is a destination that will do better than many, the reality is we will have five weeks of reasonable trading that is still substantially down on normal years and we are now carrying eight loss-making months in a row prior to this.
“We have had St Patrick’s Weekend, Easter and May and June Bank Holiday all lost. Five weeks of an okay summer can’t make up for that. The real challenge begins from September to March next year,” Mr Grant said.
He said that the loss of international travel, the majority of which was in the shoulder season for the hotel, will be “a disaster from September onward” but can’t wait for he and his team “who are the most friendly bunch” to catch up with and welcome back guests and be part of the community again.
A core team of 40 staff members will welcome guests upon reopening and summer staff on the books have been retained.
The restricting of capacity and managing the business with safety has included the installation of perspex screens in areas where social distancing “can be tricky”, the restaurants tables have been spaced out and resident and non-resident dining has been separated.
Sanitizing stations are at all major entrances and exits and in bathrooms and segregation and one-way systems are in place throughout the hotel.
The hotel’s pool will be open to residents and members only with a booking system in place and family times reserved.
The “magic” location of the hotel is close to many beaches and walks and the area offers various different family activities such as the Lagoon Activity Centre, Smugglers Cove and the Model Railway Village in Clonakilty.