The coronavirus crisis has forced many Irish people to abandon their foreign holiday plans - and consider a staycation instead.
Many have lost money on foreign holidays which they had booked and paid for. Some are unsure if they will be able to go ahead with a sun holiday booked for the summer. Even if air travel restrictions are lifted in the coming weeks or months, many will be too nervous to travel.
So, if you are considering an Irish staycation this Easter or summer, how could you keep the cost of your holiday at home down? And is there any way to limit the chances of the coronavirus pandemic playing havoc with your staycation too?
Avoid traditional tourist hotspots
One of the easiest ways to keep your Irish staycation affordable is to avoid popular tourist sites such as beauty spots in Kerry, Cork and Galway. "For those who want to holiday on the west coast of Ireland, locations north of Galway [such as Mayo, Sligo and Donegal] are usually cheaper than counties south of Galway [such as Kerry and Cork]," said Eoghan Corry, editor of Travel Extra magazine. "The Midlands is by far the cheapest."
Bear in mind, though, that the sharp drop-off in international visitors coming to Ireland could make traditional tourist hotspots more affordable this year. The increased popularity of the Wild Atlantic Way in recent years has pushed up the cost of accommodation along that route. It has also often made it hard for Irish people to find available hotel rooms and holiday homes there.
Last year, for example, families would have struggled to find a holiday home for less than €1,000 a week in popular Irish tourist spots during the summer holidays. And the bill for hiring luxury holiday homes could have been as high as €3,000 or €4,000 a week.
The current travel ban between the US and Ireland and the rest of Europe has forced many Americans to cancel trips here, and indeed many had already been doing so.
"The US and Canada is Ireland's second-biggest tourist market," said Corry. "If we see Americans and Canadians cancelling summer holidays in Ireland en masse - which is already happening for spring and Easter - we could see a lot of that accommodation [along the Wild Atlantic Way] arriving in the Irish market for domestic tourists at a discounted price. Cancelled holidays are always good for the punter. A hotelier, for example, will usually do anything to fill a cancelled room."
A stay in a hotel room is often non-refundable if cancelled very close to the time the guest was due to arrive - which was the case with a lot of the accommodation cancelled in recent weeks. So, if you're taking up a room which has been cancelled, you may well be able to get that room at a substantial discount, particularly if that room has already been paid for by the individual who cancelled it. Your best chance of getting a good discount is to ring the hotel directly, said Corry.
Know Easter bookings may be tricky
It is currently difficult to plan an Easter staycation, given the rapidly evolving nature of the coronavirus crisis. Some Irish hotels have closed temporarily and 'until further notice' to protect staff and guests - as well as in response to the dramatic number of cancellations, and the difficulties of running a hotel business under social distancing rules.
More hotel closures could follow. How long such hotels may be closed for is anyone's guess.
"The cancellations [received by hotels as a result of the coronavirus crisis] may be so severe that Irish hotels may decide to curtail their opening season," said Corry.
Other accommodation providers - such as some caravan parks or holiday resorts - have temporarily closed as a preventative measure.
The Center Parcs holiday resort in Ballymahon in Longford and the Delphi Resort in Connemara, for example, are closed until March 29. More could follow.
Given the uncertainty around hotel, holiday resort and caravan park accommodation, your best options if planning a staycation this Easter could be a holiday home, bed-and-breakfast or Airbnb.
Bear in mind, though, that some bed-and-breakfasts may decide to close in the coming weeks to prevent the spread of the virus in their community. Some Airbnb hosts and holiday home owners may also cancel their offer of accommodation for the same reason.
There will be some parts of the country where you may struggle to get holiday home availability for the Easter school holidays - as many holiday homes there will be already booked. Areas where holiday homes are typically heavily booked include Dingle, Ballybunion and Ballinskelligs in Kerry; Castlemartyr in Cork; Ballyvaughan in Clare; and Dunmore East in Waterford, according to Trident Holiday Homes. Given the recent accommodation cancellations by overseas tourists who had planned to visit Ireland, you may still be able to get a holiday home in these areas - so it is worth trying those areas to check if any accommodation is free.
There are discounts being offered on some holiday homes this Easter. Trident Holiday Homes is currently offering a 15pc discount off some holiday homes in Kilkee, Co Clare; Castlemartyr; Dunmore East; and Dingle.
With this discount, a family of four can rent a three-bedroom holiday home in Kilkee for the first week of the Easter school holidays for €415, for example.
Trident Holiday Homes is also offering discounts on some homes on selected dates in May, June and August.
Know where you stand on refunds
It is now more important than ever to understand the terms and conditions of any accommodation booking before you make it. With holiday homes, any deposit you pay may not be refundable - and you may also have to pay the full cost of the holiday home rental at least a month before you're due to arrive at the property. Should you have to cancel your holiday home booking close to your planned arrival date, you could lose all your money.
For example, with Trident Holiday Homes, a non-refundable deposit of 30pc of the total rental cost of the property is typically required - as well as a non-refundable booking fee of €49 - at the time of booking. Furthermore, with Trident, full payment is usually due no later than eight weeks in advance.
And if you cancel your booking less than two weeks in advance of arrival, you're unlikely to get any money back.
"Our normal terms and conditions still apply in regard to Covid-19," according to a statement on Trident's website. "This will be reviewed should the situation change."
Should you be considering bed-and-breakfast or Airbnb, stick to hosts with flexible booking policies - who either won't charge you, or who will give you a full refund, if you need to cancel at short notice. Don't pay the full amount up front if booking a hotel. Some hotels allow you to cancel for free, as long as you cancel up to 48 hours in advance of the date you were due to arrive. So with such hotels, you won't lose any money if you cancel, as long as you give the required notice.
"Don't book anything that's non-refundable," said Sarah Slattery, founder of travel website thetravelexpert.ie. "You will probably have to pay more for a flexible booking - but it's best to do so. Be sure to check the hotel's cancellation policy."
Your health is your wealth
With this crisis, it has become very evident that what is possible today may not be possible tomorrow. An Irish hotel which you had planned to spend your Easter break in may now be shut until further notice. An Easter camp which you had booked for your child is very likely to be cancelled.
These are unprecedented times. For many of us, a staycation would be a welcome reprieve to the cabin fever of recent days.
Keep things in perspective should your staycation fall through or prove hard to plan, though. Ultimately, your health is more important than any holiday.
What will I pay?
For anyone planning an Irish staycation this summer, accommodation along the coast - particularly any popular spot along the Wild Atlantic Way - is likely to be priciest. A family of five, for example, could pay €1,500 a week to rent a holiday home in Dingle this July, according to the prices being quoted by some holiday home providers.
Some holiday homes in Dingle cost almost €2,000 a week to rent in early August.
By contrast, shop around and you could rent a three-bedroom holiday home in parts of Donegal, Leitrim, parts of Connemara, Wicklow, Clare and Wexford for around €700 to €800 a week in July. "People often aren't aware that there are some inland locations that can also offer outside swimming and many water-based activities," said a spokeswoman for Trident Holiday Homes. "Killaloe, on the Clare side of the river, and Ballina on the Tipperary side, offer a riverside park and seasonal outdoor swimming pool. There are plenty of moorings for cruisers to stop off and water sports available on the river."
Another inland holiday destination that you could consider is Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh.
How could I get a good deal?
You could find it easier to get a deal from a newly opened hotel or resort than a long-established and popular one.
"Look for anywhere that's put an awful lot of new beds in very quickly," said Eoghan Corry of Travel Extra. "The first year of a new property is a good time to get a good deal." Bear in mind too that if a hotel or other accommodation provider is dependent on an international market, it may be easier to get a deal there if that market has dried up. "Keep an eye on what's happening internationally," said Corry.
What about travel insurance?
Your travel insurance may not cover you if you have to cancel an Irish staycation for reasons related to the coronavirus. So before making a booking, check with your insurer to see where you will stand if that booking falls through. If you are wary about booking a staycation now, you could base yourself at home and plan a series of day trips. Many festivals may still be restricted this summer, though.
What about health?
An isolated rural spot may be the best bet for your staycation. "The more sparsely populated the places you go to, the less contact you are likely to have with the infection," said Corry.
Be responsible, though: you could be a carrier of the virus, so you could be the one who brings the virus to a remote spot. Furthermore, should you feel that a rural getaway or island home is your best chance of a coronavirus-free escape, don't choose somewhere so isolated that you will struggle to get medical attention if you need it.
Sunday Indo Business