Wildly successful: How two once-empty hotels turned it around and now employ 200 workers
Two hotels that lay empty just three years ago are reporting record occupancy rates in what is being described as an economic game-changer for rural areas once ravaged by emigration.
The owners of the Shandon Hotel & Spa and the Sandhouse Hotel - both on Co Donegal's Wild Atlantic Way - employ more than 200 people between them after the tourism boom finally reached areas once considered off the beaten track.
The introduction of the coastal tourist route and increasing visitor numbers to the north-west have breathed new life into Dunfanaghy and Rossnowlagh, where the two hotels are located.
The four-star Shandon Hotel reopened its doors less than a year ago after being bought out of liquidation.
"We've just had an incredible autumn and brilliant start to winter," said manager Carolynne Harrison.
"We have had occupancy rates for the past four months of 85pc in an area where hotels have traditionally opened part-time. The Wild Atlantic Way has been an enormous help. We already have 70pc bookings in January which would have been unheard of just a couple of years ago.
"In the past most hotels in rural areas were seasonal, but that has all changed. We closed for four days over Christmas to give the staff a well-earned break."
Paul Diver, who bought the Sandhouse Hotel in Rossnowlagh from bank receivers, now employs 90 staff and the hotel is open year-round. "I had an immediate uplift in bookings after the auction because my story as a hotel manager who became the owner went viral online," said Mr Diver.
"We were taking calls from America, Australia and all over Europe from people who just wanted to come here and say 'well done'. We closed for a few days over Christmas and we've gone from being open four months of the year to being open for 11-and-a-half months."
The Lonely Planet has named Donegal the Coolest Destination in the World for 2017, but Mr Diver says Irish customers have made a difference.
"There are more than 6,500 people employed directly in tourism in Donegal now," he said. "That's worth around €125m to the county in 2016 and it's going to be even bigger in 2017."