After more than five months on lockdown, hotel receptionists all over the country are asking this question again. And it will be music to the ears of punters looking forward to a night away, having someone else do the cooking and washing-up, or grabbing a sneaky indoor pint before bars and restaurants reopen in July.
"So far guests have been great and it is funny to see the guys ordering that long awaited pint in a glass – they become slightly bleary eyed and almost look ready to cry with joy,” says Tom Randles of Randles Hotel in Killarney, Co Kerry.
“But the current hotel experience is as you have experienced before,” he adds. “A little bit more space, fewer crowds – bliss really."
So how can we get the best deals? And what do guests need to prepare to get the most out of this long-awaited short break? Here are six tips to get you started.
1. Book direct
By all means use global websites like booking.com, hotels.com and trivago.ie for searches. They can charge 15pc or more in commission on accommodation however, so by booking directly with your hotel, B&B or self-catering property, both you and the business can save.
Hotel websites can also offer good deals beyond their doors. “We have negotiated discounts on local activities, so I would recommend that guests visit the hotel’s website in advance and use any promo codes on offer,” says Eveanna Ryan of The Connacht Hotel in Galway.
2. Even better – pick up the phone
Ask for a price discount, but also for extras that add value – like inclusive meals or activities, discounts on local attractions or resort-style credit (eg 20pc off spa treatments). Hotels know you will spend money on site, so it’s in their interest to get you staying longer.
“My secret tip? Ask for a free upgrade or free breakfast as opposed to booking on a comparison website and the hotel might just give in,” Randles says. “Ssssshhh!”
Rory Buckley of The Castle Hotel Macroom in Cork notes people booking longer stays of three to four days, and “a large increase” in sales of packages bundling B&B and dinner, or golf. “In addition, we are seeing many multi-generational stays, whereby extended families are booking several rooms, allowing grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and kids to make up for missed time.''
3. Pre-book your meals, pool slots and activities
"Pre booking dinner is critical,” says Tom Randles, whose Killarney hotel is opening its restaurant from 5pm this summer. “When guests have no other bar or restaurant options, hotel dining is in hot demand. Pair that with reduced seating, and restaurants are filling.”
As well as mealtimes, think about booking bar tables, pool slots, spa treatments and local attractions, rather than risk disappointment, particularly in July and August.
"Punctuality will be central to the enjoyment of activities in any hotel this year,” says Anthony Smiddy, GM at the Johnstown Estate in Meath. “Customers may find this a little different than before Covid. However, from a safety perspective, pre-booking ensures that customers aren’t caught in a situation where larger groups can gather suddenly in a small space.”
It’s also a good idea to make use of your hotel’s concierge or guest service staff ahead of time – from retail opening hours to local outdoor dining options, their connections can be priceless.
“The concierge will be the guests’ eyes and ears of the city, so do ask in advance as to restaurants with outdoor dining or great spots for an outdoor picnic,” says Bronagh Kelleher of the Fitzwilliam in Dublin. “A lot has changed so reach out and ask, that’s what we’re here for.”
4. Read those emails!
They’re not all spam. Hotels will be emailing to outline how Ireland’s new hospitality guidelines work, from details on pre-registration and check-in to new layouts, the chance to pre-book meals, pool slots and activities, or details you may not think of – like how many people can travel in the lift.
Some hotels have new app services to help guests book and plan ahead. Guests at Hotel Minella in Co Tipperary can book leisure centre slots this way, while the Ashdown Park’s app in Gorey, Co Wexford, hooks up to the guest directory and dining and activity booking systems.
“It will also guide guests with maps and direct links to our walks, beaches, attractions and activities and allow them to DM us directly through the app with questions,” says its GM, Paul Finnegan.
"At Fota Island Resort we send three emails at different stages prior to a guest’s arrival,” says Fiona Twomey, its sales and marketing director. “This gives important information regarding the dining option and activities available at the resort with direct links to the booking platforms where guests can make their bookings.”
A pre-arrival call is also a good time to double-check cancellation policies.
5. Go midweek (that includes Sundays)
A romantic Monday away doesn’t sound quite as sexy as a weekend break. But you can enjoy a lower bill, particularly in cities and hotels that haven’t filled up with family summer holiday business.
In Tralee, for example, The Rose Hotel’s summer activity break includes two nights B&B, one dinner and bike hire from €366 per stay for two people. It costs from €417 at weekends.
"Saturdays will always be a higher price – Sunday will always give you the best value,” Tom Randles says. And be sure to ask for late check-out the following morning. Bonus.
"Arrive early,” says Nicholas Ryan, GM at Markree Castle in Sligo. “Even though we cannot guarantee your room will be available, guests are welcome to enjoy all the facilities of the castle.”
Hotel collections like Só Hotels (sohotels.ie), Original Irish Hotels (originalirishhotels.com) and the iNua collection (inua.ie) can also offer solid deals on their websites, particularly if your travel dates are flexible. iNua’s Radisson in Athlone has a three-night couple’s break from €310 B&B, for instance, while the Hillgrove in Monaghan has a three-night family B&B break from €420.
6. Hit the city
As staycationers flee to the coast, cities missing overseas visitors also offer great value – just over one in ten rooms are booked in Dublin this month, according to the Irish Hotels Federation.
The five-star Fitzwilliam in Dublin has rooms and a meal at Glovers Alley from €399 at weekends. From Monday to Thursday, that drops to €299. “Dublin really has some super value,” Bronagh Kelleher says. Midweek, there are “better accommodation rates, more chance of an upgrade, early check in and out, and of course more access to preferred dining times”, she adds.
"Mini-moons are also a big trend this year resulting from the slimming down of both weddings and honeymoons,” says Anthony Smiddy. “Many couples are spending a few days in different hotels across the country, and getting excellent midweek value on suites, which allows them to treat themselves.”
PS. Be patient!
Finally, remember that hotel staff are human beings too. After months on hiatus, they are in at the deep end, and patience and respect will go a long way to making the experience more enjoyable for everyone. If you can’t honour a restaurant booking, in or outdoors, call ahead to cancel. For many, no-shows could be the difference between breaking even or losing money this summer.