ANYBODY thinking about holidays at the moment probably can't afford to go. And it's not just us. Our tourism figures are falling quicker than the economy. Latest evidence from the sector shows that business is down 11.5pc on last year (which wasn't great to begin with), and 41 pc of hotels are claiming intake is down.
We have to start getting creative with this vital industry. No, we can't do anything about the weather, volcanos or other forces of nature. But nobody ever visited Ireland for the climate, even during the boom. We can't do anything quickly about the massive over-supply that was allowed to develop in the hotel sector. Every second town had a four-star hotel and spa at one stage -- natural wastage will, depressingly, deal with that one.
For those that survive, and one-third of hotels are reporting better trade this year than last, it is about employing all those awful cliches: thinking outside the box; adding value; working smarter. We need to focus on what we do best and get our tourism mojo back. Here are some suggestions from an enthusiastic armchair tourist.
Good value always beats cheap prices. Packages and deals that can be easily compared make the difference when I'm betwixt and between committing my cash.
Little things that don't cost a lot can make me return. Don't have a spa? Have a local manicurist to surprise me in the lobby with a file and polish for free. What about a pianist to play at dinner to lengthen my drinking and eating time?
Please offer me breakfast when I get up, not when you want me to. When my family arrives at the dining room, bring (without being asked) a jug of tap water and one mixed with cordial. We mightn't order expensive bottled soft drinks, but we will stay for dessert and maybe return tomorrow too. And, seriously, a plate of pasta simply does not cost €20, so stop over-charging.
There's a return of Irish staff to hotels. Locals who weren't prepared to work as chamber-maids, receptionists or waiters are realising a job's a job. There's something special about having a local who knows the area inside and out to give you the heads up on things you'll never find on a tourism website. They know the best restaurants, where to bring teenagers when it's raining, which craft shop has a tiny workroom down the back where you can have a go yourself, if you ask nicely. We need all hotel staff to become concierges.
When I stay in an Irish hotel, I avoid the tons of brochures lined up in the lobby, and the 'helpful' guide in my bedroom. I ask the porter, or the waitress, or someone whose accent I realise is from around the corner.
They know what I need and it truly makes all the difference. Hotels: realise what assets they are.
Some hotels need to redefine what they do. Catering to 'everybody' leaves you specialist at nothing. I recently booked a hotel in Cavan for a romantic weekend because it doesn't allow children. I was flexible about the location and price, so this was the decider for me.
But if you do advertise yourself as a family venue then, for goodness sake, make sure you have stuff for kids to do. Offering a kids' club for two hours a day isn't enough. Some won't go in, or it'll be full. Have roving children's staff.
Set up impromptu craft lessons, surfing classes, face painters. Let them go in the pool when they like. Keep them guessing ... and busy!
Make your rack rates crystal clear. Please don't let me find out the person staying in the next room got it €50 cheaper. A room should cost a specific price -- don't make me work for it. I shouldn't have to outwit you, or the internet to strike a deal. Give me your best one first time and I'll book.
Finally, for all you tourists who have been unable to come to our beautiful country for that holiday you booked because of weather or a flight, perhaps hotels will try to regain your business if you rebook.
They might offer you dinner, or a spa treatment, or a free babysitter if you come back.
Please try -- we'd love to see you.