Cead Mile Faulty?
Now that Easter is behind us, our hotels must be feeling marginally more optimistic about the looming summer season. This week has seen a surge in home-grown holidays, and when the schools break up in June, recession-weary families will scour the country again for breaks that combine value for money, proper service and a few decent perks.
Given the huge number of hotels on their last legs, it should be possible to find that combination in abundance and, just because money is tight, now more than ever budget-conscious travellers should expect and be given the red-carpet treatment during what for many will be their only holiday of the year.
But you have to wonder whether Irish hotels really have put their brash, tiger ways behind them. Do receptionists treat every single guest who walks through the door as though their next pay cheque depended on it, or is there still a residue of the couldn't-care-less attitude that so epitomised service during our boom years?
Often, it's the very hotels that market themselves as family-friendly who need to pull their socks up the most, a point driven home to me over Easter, which I spent in Connemara.
After a magical visit to Kylemore Abbey on Good Friday, where the Benedictine sisters had the warmest of welcomes for strangers passing by, we made our way to a local legend for afternoon tea and found the reception rather tepid.
Renvyle House Hotel fancies itself as one of Ireland's tourism greats. It's won an embarrassing number of awards. In his 100 Best Places to Stay in Ireland, John McKenna calls it "an A to Z of hospitality in all its myriad, glorious forms". So how come I felt left out in the cold when I dropped in last weekend?
Granted, the place was over-run with small children, a bunch of exceptionally loud parents and a seemingly small complement of staff, but that's no excuse for a cool reception and an agonising wait to get served. The woman on the desk was addled with new arrivals when we asked where the 'Ladies' were and went back later to pay, but a bit of genuine eye contact and gratitude from front-of-house staff shouldn't be too much to expect in this harsh economic climate.
It's great to see hotels such as Renvyle booming again on bank holiday weekends, and I have to say they know how to make a decent chicken sandwich, but brisk business is no excuse for sloppy service.
Hopefully the next time we drop by, this family favourite will have a friendlier welcome on the mat.
- What a joy the new M6 motorway is. Yes, having to fork out €4.80 in toll fees to get from Dublin to Galway is highway robbery, but with a speed limit of 120km for most of the way, the journey is doable in two hours.
Just bear in mind that unless you want to experience the joys of Loughrea or Kinnegad on foot, don't attempt to take it on without a full tank. The petrol station at Ballybrit Racecourse is, as their sign declares, the last one between Galway and the capital.