Some staycationers are gearing up for a summer break in Northern Ireland, as Covid-19 restrictions ease across the Border.
Self-contained tourist accommodation, such as caravans and rented holiday homes, can operate in the North from April 30th, with no equivalent date yet earmarked in the Republic.
Bookings for caravanning and camping in the North are now seeing the effects of “massive pent-up demand,” according to one campsite operator in Fermanagh.
Cathal O’Dolan, who runs the Rushin House Caravan Park on the shores of Lough MacNean with his partner Brenda, said the family-run park took over 75 bookings on Thursday — the day of the reopening announcement — alone.
“Demand has been absolutely phenomenal,” he said, with bookings for the campsite now pencilled in up as far as the month of August — including a smaller number from the Republic.
Mr O’Dolan said he believed some sites would not have the capacity to meet demand this summer, as staycationers seek to make up for missed holidays such as St Patrick’s weekend, Easter and the upcoming May bank holiday.
Restrictions differing north and south of the Border was “a very hard one to call” for businesses but it was not his place to turn people away, Mr O’Dolan said.
“If someone has made a booking and they feel uncomfortable about travel and they feel they shouldn’t, then we either refund their money, or they can move their money onto a different date that would suit them where they are allowed to travel,” he added.
The Irish Caravan and Camping Council (ICC), which represents the sector across the island of Ireland, is now pushing for a mid-May reopening of sites in the Republic.
Chief executive of the ICC, Con Quill, said camping and caravanning can provide a “safer” outdoor-based staycation option.
Domestic demand is high for a reopening, Mr Quill said, with people “ringing constantly” to see if information was available about a reopening of sites.
They see caravans and camping and outdoor activities as a safe option
“A lot of people have purchased caravans and camper vans and tents, a lot of people are going back into it,” he said.
“There's a big pent-up demand from people to get out and to be able to get away from home, and they see caravans and camping and outdoor activities as a safe option for them.”
With outdoor visitor attractions such as zoos and heritage sites earmarked to open in the Republic on April 26th, Mr Quill said an earlier opening of “self-contained” accommodation in camping and caravan parks should be considered.
“We're put in with hospitality, but we do feel we’re a safer outdoor option for people this summer,” he said.
“Obviously we have all the safety procedures in place and keeping families in their own bubble and operating under strict Fáilte Ireland guidelines for Covid, so we acknowledge all that's vitally important.
It’s business that will be lost to half of the south if people go and book their holidays in the North
“At the moment we have not received any clarity [regarding reopening] — we’re just told that we have to remain closed like all other tourism and hospitality.”
Mr Quill confirmed member parks in Northern Ireland were “seeing the demand coming up from the south.”
“There will be interest in going up north, and it’s business that will be lost to half of the south if people go and book their holidays in the North,” he said.
“The demand is very strong, but I suppose they [campsites in the North] would have maybe little concerns about people coming up from the south not being vaccinated and that.
“I think local communities and that might be a bit more worried as well, so time will tell. It’s a bit early to tell yet but it’s definitely an issue people are watching.”