Sarah Mooney, Vivienne Clarke and Olivia Kelleher
Another summer of staycations has begun with the reopening of hotels across Ireland on Wednesday.
Hotels, B&Bs, hostels, guesthouses and related tourism accommodation can open their doors to tourists from today, while outdoor dining services for restaurants, cafes and pubs will reopen from Monday, June 7th.
The reopening of tourism and hospitality will help inject an estimated €1 billion into the economy in the coming months, according to Fáilte Ireland.
The national tourism development authority is forecasting the boost based on economic analysis showing the economy saw a return of €843 million from domestic holiday spend when restrictions eased last summer – up 52 per cent on the previous year's third quarter.
Ahead of the reopening, Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin said there was cause for “cautious optimism” as the rollout of Covid vaccines gathers pace, but added she was “acutely aware” of the importance of the return of international visitors in July.
“Accommodation and restaurants along with pubs and bars will be able to reopen their doors after this difficult period of enforced closure. I know that all tourism and hospitality businesses will extend a warm Céad Míle Fáilte to their guests,” she said.
“I encourage people to keep discovering the delights our country has to offer. This will drive much needed and sustained footfall to local tourism and hospitality businesses as they reopen over the coming weeks.”
The owner of the guest house judged to be the best in Ireland by Tripadvisor, Susan Daly, is “praying that the weather will hold” and “all set to welcome guests back,” she told Newstalk Breakfast.
Ms Daly, of Daly’s House in Doolin, Co Clare said bookings were good, with a lot of Irish for the coming weeks and more from the US in August, September and October.
Chef Kevin Dundon, proprietor of Dunbrody House, Co Wexford told the same programe that bookings were good and that all of his staff were returning, except one barman who has changed career to become a window fitter.
On RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Adrian Elliot of Glasson Glamping in Co Westmeath said they had used the time during lockdown to make significant changes and all their accommodation now had individual cooking and cleaning facilities and check-ins were completed out of doors.
Dick Ridge of Paduma Village in Portumna, Co Galway also told Morning Ireland that they too had utilised the time to introduce changes to their eco pods and cabins, including outdoor dining spaces for up to 50 people covered with a canopy.
Mr Ridge said that they were fortunate most of the staff were family members and that after a number of “false starts”, they had taken a cautious approach and waited until there was a definite date before taking bookings.
People were “weather watching”, he said, so the bookings were slow but steady.
Mr Elliot said that as a new venture, the business did not have a trading history which was required to avail of Government Covid-19 supports. “We did a lot of the work ourselves, we wouldn’t have been able to borrow to do the work.”
Meanwhile, staff at the historic Imperial Hotel in Cork were celebrating on Wedneday as they opened their doors after “what is hopefully the last period of forced closure.”
Over the last 200 years, the hotel has played host to many famous faces, including all nine Presidents of Ireland, royals, and Hollywood stars.
It has also welcomed notable historical figures including slave abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and Irish revolutionary Michael Collins who famously spent his final night at the hotel before being assassinated in Béal na Bláth the next day.
During its history, it has overcome many hardships, including the burning of Cork and a number of recessions, but hotel management say the Covid-19 pandemic is one of the most “surreal”.
General manager Bastien Peyraud said when it closed for the first lockdown in March 2020, it was the first time the building had fully shut its doors in more than 200 years.
“It was emotional to say the least – and unbelievable. We even struggled to find a key for our front door on the South Mall It was lockable from the inside, but we never, ever, had a reason to lock it from the outside, leaving the building completely empty. It was quite a surreal moment,” said Mr Peyraud.
He said he is cautiously optimistic about occupancy rates for the season ahead.
“We’re currently at about 30 per cent occupancy for the summer, which is obviously well below our usual 90 per cent rate at this time of year, but we expect bookings to increase over the coming weeks as more people get vaccinated and as the schools break for summer.
“The Flynn family, who own the hotel, live by the motto of ‘making sure your business is local’.
“We have therefore always put a huge emphasis on the local community and hopefully that will get us through the summer ahead. However, the supports will need to continue until we’re back at a normal playing field to do business.”
Hoteliers have meanwhile welcomed continued Government business supports and the extension of the nine per cent VAT rate under the national economic recovery plan.
The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) has said that the resumption of tourism will restore 270,000 livelihoods and tourism communities throughout the country.
“Hotels and guesthouses are facing reopening costs of approximately €964 per bedroom – equivalent to over €72,000 for an average 75-bedroom hotel, according to a recent member survey,” IHF president Elaina Fitzgerald Kane said.
“This is a huge cashflow challenge for most hotels and guesthouses who have already experienced nothing short of a catastrophic financial shock from this pandemic with months of prolonged closure and partial reopening.
“It is essential that reopening grants are put in place that reflect the true scale of the reopening costs whilst laying the building blocks for recovery and the restoration of employment.”