How are Ireland’s B&Bs and guesthouses reimagining themselves for post-pandemic staycations? Nicola Brady finds out
There’s something deliciously unique about a stay in a classic Irish B&B.
You can’t beat pulling up at a gorgeous country house to be welcomed at the door like an old friend, with a cup of tea and some freshly-baked biscuits never too far behind. Stay at a B&B and you’re (more than likely) staying in someone’s home, with all the charm, personality and warmth that goes along with that.
But in an industry so reliant on a close, personable experience, how will things change in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic? As the industry prepares to open from June 29 after months in lockdown, Ireland’s B&B experience looks set to be very different to the one that we left behind.
What will change?
“I’ve been reading a lot about foggers and clean-room technology being used in larger hotels,” says Miriam Sadlier Barry of The Old Bank B&B in Bruff, Co Limerick. “Instead, I have decided to invest in an ozone air purifier for our rooms.” The Bruff B&B has also suspended its daily housekeeping service, to ensure guests and staff can maintain a social distance — though rooms will, of course, be deep cleaned and disinfected according to Fáilte Ireland’s new guidelines before and after a stay.
Those guidelines lay out advice for the “safe reopening” of tourism in Ireland, from holiday accommodation to restaurants and visitor attractions. Key elements such as social distancing, increased sanitisation and adapting food services are common to all, but there are of course sector-specific differences for B&Bs and historic houses.
And it’s important to note, as with everything in our new world, that the guidelines are ever evolving. The “living document” will update in line with new government advice or protocol changes, Fáilte Ireland says.
So how will the experience change?
While there are many elements at play that may not be visible to you as a guest, your experience will certainly be different to previous getaways. Physical distancing of two metres must be observed between people of different households (though this is one element that many people are hoping will change in the coming weeks).
Each property will have a designated Covid-19 Coordinator, there will be a dedicated room in place should anyone need to isolate, and there’ll be hand sanitiser everywhere.
So far, so good. But while I hate to be the bearer of bad news, B&B lovers can prepare to kiss the beloved breakfast buffet spread goodbye — for now…
The all-important breakfast
The clue is in the name — the breakfast at a B&B is one of its biggest attractions. And it’s not just the plate of sausages and rashers from the farm up the road, it’s the joy of making a breakfast “starter” with granola, fresh fruit, yoghurt and honey, all from the buffet table piled high like a cornucopia of gorgeousness. But while we hate to see it go, we can (reluctantly) get behind the reasoning.
The official guidelines state that “ideally buffet style service should be avoided, and breakfast served directly from the kitchen.” If you do see a buffet, “all items displayed for guest use will have individual wrapping or be a single-serve item,” which we can probably all agree is as unappealing as it is environmentally unfriendly.
But it’s not all bad news.
After all, B&Bs have long served the main event fresh to order, as opposed to the hotels that often serve breakfast from a giant, self-service buffet. It’s likely that Irish B&Bs will be prompted to think creatively, too. “Some of them are talking about spreading out a little bit, and using their conservatories for breakfast, to keep people separated,” Helena Healy, CEO of B&B Ireland, tells me.
B&B Ireland has also been encouraging the introduction of luxurious takeaway breakfast bags, or even the option of breakfast in bed, something that isn’t traditionally offered in B&Bs. So you might have to trade in your smorgasbord of cereals, but you’ll get to enjoy pancakes in bed.
A post-Covid céad míle fáilte
There’s nothing quite like the Irish welcome, and that’s truer than ever in a B&B. Here, it’s all about the hearty handshake on arrival, the close natter as you huddle over an unfolded map, or a big old hug and a kiss if you’re a repeat guest. But, as with so much of our lives, that’s all set to change.
“Certainly, meeting our guests when they arrive will be a challenge,” says Richie Foley, owner of Roseville House in Youghal, Co Cork. “I enjoyed showing our guests to their rooms, chatting about Youghal and giving them directions to local attractions, bars and restaurants.”
But keeping a distance doesn’t mean saying goodbye to hospitality. “I’m hoping I can keep the traditional approach, as I very much enjoyed it,” Foley says. “I can still meet people at the front door and have a chat... I suppose we’ll have to play it by ear.”
Roseville House has also implemented a contactless check-in service, for those who prefer to keep a distance — guests can access their rooms with a key-coded box, eliminating the need for contact on arrival.
An added bonus? Roseville’s two rooms are completely self-contained in the walled garden, each with their own entrance and built-in larders stuffed with Irish-produced snacks, granola, cereals and fresh milk.
A breakfast basket is also delivered each morning, with local breads, cheeses and yoghurts, so guests can enjoy a continental-style breakfast in the comfort of their own room, or order a full hot breakfast, room service-style.
Like many other properties, the Youghal B&B has also introduced a two-night minimum and reduced its maximum daily capacity to just four guests.
A home from home
When you stay at a B&B, the biggest element at play is the fact that you’re staying in someone’s home. It’s a big attraction for many guests — the authenticity, the personality at play, the sense that you’re being welcomed not into a faceless property, but a home.
However, that does make things trickier for the owners. Many B&Bs in Ireland are run by multi-generational families, and public-health advice means there’s a need to keep things separate for the moment, particularly for those with cocooners living under the same roof.
But the fact that it’s a family home can also give guests an extra sense of security.
“As the B&B is your home, you know exactly who has been there and that it has been a safe environment for you and your family,” says Breandán Fitzgerald, owner of Dingle Heights in Co Kerry.
“Our guests will know that they are coming to a safe haven where they can relax and enjoy themselves. I think a very big challenge will be trying to limit the interaction with our guests. Usually when people stay with us, they become like our extended family.”
In normal times, the bulk of Ireland’s B&B guests come from international tourism. While staycations can start again from June 29, overseas travel remains uncertain, and it seems unlikely that visitors from places like Britain, the US or continental Europe will be back in any kind of significant numbers this year.
There’s also the issue of demand within the domestic market. According to recent consumer sentiment research from Fáilte Ireland, most people planning on taking a trip in Ireland within the next six months are looking to stay in hotels (57pc) or self-catering properties (26pc), with only 19pc looking at a stay in a B&B.
“The whole tourism industry has challenges,” Helena Healy says. “But its was doing very well before coronavirus. It was growing, and there’s a demand for the product. We do believe that there are people who prefer to stay in a B&B rather than a big hotel, even in the current times — because the risk will be much lower, because of the number of people you’re going to meet, because you can isolate a little better.
“We have hurdles to get over, like everyone else in the industry, but I feel very optimistic.”
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With a cool, maritime vibe, rooms at Georgian-era Roseville House have a much more modern feel than a traditional B&B. They start from €109 per night. rosevilleyoughal.com
There’s a delightfully old-school vibe to The Old Bank (above), and the rooms have gorgeous jacuzzi bath tubs (just what we all need after lockdown). Doubles from €60 midweek, room-only. theoldbank.ie
Beautiful country house Lorum Old Rectory (main photo) has great walks and wild swimming spots right on its doorstep, and gorgeous rooms with four poster beds. Doubles start from €180 per night, with a discount for stays of three nights or more. lorum.com
It’s Georgina Campbell’s B&B of the year for 2020, so you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re in the best of hands at Glasha Farmhouse. Doubles from €120.
On the coast road of Ballina, Brigown is a great spot for a bit of peace and quiet (plus Marjorie’s famously elaborate breakfasts, with a choice of 15 dishes). Doubles from €90. brigownbandb.ie
Want to find a whole range of options in one place? B&B Ireland has 750 properties on its books, and you can make your reservations there too. bandbireland.com