Bag yourself a five-star bargain
Reading the news, I nearly sprayed coffee all over my desk. After years of rip-off Ireland, the latest Hotels.com price index says our room rates are the lowest in western Europe.
At an average of €79 per night, Irish hotel rates are back at 2004 levels. Dublin, a city that once threatened to eclipse Oslo and Copenhagen in the expense stakes, is apparently now one of the best-value boltholes in the world, with an average room rate of just €73 per night.
Granted, these are averages. Pitch up in Dublin during the UEFA Europa League final in May, or when Neil Diamond plays the Aviva this June, and €73 rooms may be in short supply.
But given that, globally, average room prices rose last year, our benighted hotel sector is almost certainly bottoming out. The Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary are the only European destinations remaining cheaper than Ireland. I can't see how prices can fall any further.
All of this means one thing for the consumer. If you've ever fancied a five-star stay, or feel like taking a short break in a great Irish hotel, now's the time to make it happen.
During the boom years, could you have imagined the Parknasilla Resort and Spa bundling two nights' B&B with a gourmet evening meal in the Pygmalion restaurant from €139pp?
Yes, it's an advance purchase deal. Yes, it's midweek. But it's still Parknasilla.
Likewise, could you have foreseen that Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel would be offering one free night for every two weekend nights you stay (an offer valid up to May 31)?
Wanna take the kids? Going to press, the Radisson Blu St Helen's Hotel on the city's southside had an Easter special for two adults and two children sharing, including dinner at the Talavera restaurant, from €210 per room.
That's just over €50pp for a five-star stay, and the kids get a free Easter egg too.
Yes, sticky problems persist. Ireland has too many hotel rooms, zombies are lurking, banks are tight-fisted and the British market has collapsed -- perhaps the key problem facing new tourism minister, Leo Varadkar. A recent IHF survey says 84pc of hoteliers fear going out of business this year.
But there's good news, too. Enda Kenny's St Patrick's Day bonanza couldn't have gone any better. Queen Elizabeth and president Obama are coming next month -- a big vote of confidence for the battered 'Brand Ireland'.
When I visited Ashford Castle recently, manager Niall Rochford told me that 45pc of its business was flowing from the US, and they've just had one of the busiest months ever. Rates at the hotel are down a fifth on their peak, and they'll only be heading north from here.
US visits to Ireland rose towards the end of last year, CSO figures confirm, egged along by some sensational package deals featuring top Irish properties.
Today, there is talk of bringing two million extra visitors to Ireland by 2014. Granted, we've shed more than that in the past two years, but the rebuilding has to start somewhere.
If it all clicks, occupancy will rise, and rates will follow -- starting with the best hotels.
Hotels built in stupid locations or solely for tax perks may well remain cheap. But that's because they are cheap. And if there's any justice, they'll be the ones to close or switch use, reducing the surplus rooms.
Enjoy the rock-bottom rates while you can. They can't -- and shouldn't -- last.