Homebird bargains... and blues
Ireland has been in recession for almost two years now, and we've been talking about bringing value back to home holidays for even longer.
So are we finally starting to get some bang for our bucks?
Mary Hanafin certainly thinks so. "We lost the run of ourselves," the Minister for Tourism said, launching a domestic-holiday drive last month. "Prices were very, very high. People were able to point to better value they were getting abroad. That's not true this year."
This year, Fáilte Ireland research suggests that 61pc of us see Ireland as a value-for-money destination (up from 52pc in 2009).
Four out of five Irish people with children favour a holiday at home in 2010, the Minister added, largely due to "very, very good" all-in packages.
Does the optimism stack up? Leaving aside the Icelandic volcano, and the fact that fewer people can afford to travel overseas -- leaving them with little choice but to stay at home -- it is broadly true to say that holidaymakers are getting more for less in Ireland than they were in 2008.
This summer, for example, the five-star Castlemartyr Resort has three nights for the price of two from €390 per room (ie €65pp).
Coopershill House, the Blue Book property in Sligo, has three nights' B&B including two four-course dinners and two complimentary picnics, from €348pp.
Harvey's Point, an award-winning four-star in Donegal, has three nights' B&B including three dinners, a photography workshop and guided walks from €319pp.
At the other end of the spectrum, a night at the Apple Caravan & Camping Park in Co Tipperary costs just €6.50 per adult, with a free bottle of apple juice thrown in.
More and more accommodation providers are bundling dinners, activities and spa treatments, it seems, rather than racing to the bottom line. And that's a healthy thing, because over-discounting has cheapened hotels. And much as we love low prices, nobody likes to feel cheap.
Despite the progress, of course, bum deals are still a regular occurrence in this country.
So far this year I have paid €4.95 for a coffee at the Herbert Park Hotel in Ballsbridge, €9 for three scoops of so-so salad at Dublin's Unicorn Café, and balked at the €12 my four-year-old would have to pay to enter Aquazone at the National Aquatic Centre (the adult price is €14).
This is still a country where petrol prices have jumped almost 10pc since January, where visitors pay €1 for every 15 minutes they park at Setanta Place in Dublin, and whose car-rental fleet has dropped by half in just two years -- leading to price jumps in peak season. It's bad enough for us, but what about overseas visitors already losing on the euro exchange?
By and large, I think the country's best restaurants have stepped up to the plate. I live in Greystones, Co Wicklow, and regularly take my family for the three-course early-bird at Chakra -- an Indian restaurant from the Jaipur chain. Last time, I filled up on a starter platter, a Goan seafood curry, naan, rice and dessert for €21.95.
Chakra was heaving that day, and yet the Restaurants Association says Ireland is the most expensive place in Europe to run a restaurant. Rising rates, high wages and a 13.5pc VAT rate, it has said, are threatening one third of its members with closure this year.
And, let's face it, for every top-value set menu in this country, you're as likely as ever to find some bistro charging €21.95 for a nuked lump of fish on the tour-bus circuit.
The result, for all the strides we have made, is a constant flow of anecdotes from those lucky enough to continue holidaying overseas. In Spain, France, Italy and Portugal, we are told, tourists continue to eat, travel and be entertained for significantly less than here in Ireland.
A lot done, Minister.
More to do.