Home holidaymakers are leaving the 'dreaming phase' and starting to book limited space for summer staycations, Pól Ó Conghaile reports
Visitors are leaving the 'dreaming phase' and actively booking holidays.
That's according to new consumer research by Fáilte Ireland, which suggests Irish holidaymakers are starting to shift staycation gears.
With the Government's roadmap underway, and holiday accommodation set to open "on a limited occupancy basis" from July 20, "short break intentions have climbed to levels not seen since March" the research shows.
"We think there is a lot of dreaming going on," says Jill de Azevedo, Head of Consumer Planning and Insights with Fáilte Ireland.
Though holidaymakers remain cautious, and action is "significantly below" normal levels, "we are seeing an uptick," she says. "People are planning and scanning."
"Online traffic has increased since the announcement of July 20 as a reopening date," the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) told the Irish Independent, while Dalata, Ireland's largest hotel group, says it has seen "a steady pick-up in bookings", particularly for July and August.
Nor is it just hotels.
"There's been huge interest," the Irish Caravan & Camping Council reports. "Some parks' online booking systems even crashed!"
The news comes as households have been cooped-up for over two months, and Irish tourism businesses - devastated by Covid-19 and now facing the prospect of few overseas visitors, coach tours, big weddings or festivals this year - begin figuring out how to court them.
"The new full is probably about 40pc to 50pc of where we were," says Colin Ahern, Chair of Kilkenny Tourism and GM of the Kilkenny Ormonde Hotel - referring to what "limited occupancy" may mean for hotels after July 20.
But he is bullish. While some counties are cautious about when and how to welcome outsiders, Kilkenny is on the move, buoyed by a booking revenue rise he says jumped "300pc" in May over April.
"We're very lucky in Kilkenny in that we have a very accessible city and county," Ahern says, talking up its "wide-open spaces", big hotels and bars for social distancing, takeaway offerings and familiarity with Irish visitors.
"We will be able to accommodate and welcome people to Kilkenny in a responsible and safe manner," he asserts.
"That's something some other towns and cities can't do."
They may disagree. A 'Kinsale Comeback Campaign' is underway in West Cork, Limerick is working with MC Saatchi on a marketing drive, and Wexford's Chamber of Commerce has advocated pushing for "first-mover advantage" in promoting itself as the No 1 destination in the country.
The challenge, clearly, lies in balancing a desire to save businesses and jobs while guaranteeing visitor health and safety.
"The big barrier we're seeing now in terms of a switch into booking is that final signal, particularly at Government level, which says yes, you're good to go and all is safe," de Azevedo says of consumer sentiment.
Fáilte Ireland and the IHF will shortly publish new operating procedures and hygiene, distancing and occupancy guidelines - but the clock is ticking, and hotels and destinations have been forging ahead.
"Socially distant staycation packages" start from €79pp B&B at Hotel Westport from July 20, for example - with "post-pandemic" activities including bike hire on the Great Western Greenway, a new socially-distanced family bush camp and a pop-up restaurant venture with Cian’s of Bridge Street.
Underlining its "highest standard of cleanliness and social distancing", the hotel will require guests to pre-book breakfast and pool time slots.
Guests arriving at Dromoland Castle from July 20, meanwhile, will undergo temperature checks at the entrance to its estate. The five-star is teaming up with Ashford Castle on a "legendary castles" deal offering two nights at each property from €1,800 for two people, available to book from June 1.
Early booking trends
At Parknasilla in Co Kerry "there is more demand for self-catering than we can cater for from July 20th to early September," reports Carmel Flynn, its Head of Sales & Marketing.
The resort is "selling cautiously", and changes will include managed access to the hotel, new takeaway options for lodges and all dining by reservation. But it is also noting a rise in interest in longer breaks, Flynn says (for four days on average, as opposed to the normal 2.5), as well as dinner-inclusive packages.
Early-bird bookers are revealing other trends, too.
Fáilte Ireland's research, for example, suggests that families with pre-teen and teenage children are zeroing in on July and August; while pre-school families are pushing trips into September and October.
"Older consumers are not booking at all", de Azevedo adds.
"Many properties are reporting that longer, two-night-plus stays, of B&B and dinner packages are popular," says Laura Bowe of Co Wexford's Marlfield House and Chairperson of Ireland's Blue Book.
Bookings began to resume after the July 20 date was announced, she says, and Blue Book members are "thinking outside the box, planning on-site activities and tailored packages for longer-stay guests".
"After such uncertainty, we are now beginning to feel more positive."
The momentum is relative, of course - cancellations have decimated the industry, everything depends on public health guidelines, and not everyone is reporting a pick-up.
"I feel that, as a city hotel, we will be slower to see an uplift in bookings as the hotels in the countryside, near beaches and national parks are probably seeing a more noticeable lift," says Brian Bowler, GM at the Montenotte in Cork.
Bookings remain "few and far between", he says, but the hotel plans to open its restaurant on June 29, cranking up for a July 20 return.
Another source decries the delay in publishing the new Fáilte Ireland and IHF guidelines, fearing valuable time has been lost.
"It's now very late as hotels are busy with reservations... it is very disjointed, especially when you compare Ireland to the measure and thought process which the New Zealand government is following."
Reassuring customers on health and safety is "the most important job that we have to do" Colin Ahern agrees.
But Kilkenny isn't hanging around. "Everyone's getting on with it," he says.
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