We're back from our family staycation, relaxed and smug about having performed our patriotic duty.
In other years we splashed our cash in Italy, but what does Italy have that Ireland doesn't? Other than cappucinos at €1.50 and lemon trees and fast trains and -- oh, never mind.
The few coppers that the Minister for Finance had left in our pockets should stay in Ireland, we vowed. We booked breaks at four different hotels. Wolfe Tone, how are yah!
Irish hoteliers say their trade is being strangled by high costs, too many rooms and unfair competition from so-called zombies. Please, allow me to act as a free consultant to this struggling industry. Drawing on our recent experiences, I'd offer these tips to hoteliers.
• Cherish your local staff. At a family-run hotel in Donegal (my favourite), staff from the area shared valuable information. They told us we'd be eaten alive by bugs at one park, but could buy anti-bug wipes at the information centre. They said we'd need exact change to pay for parking at another park.
And they warned us that the barrier went up and down so quickly that we should keep the car in gear after dropping the coins in the slot. These are the little things tourists need to know.
• If you advertise a special offer in the national papers-- say, three nights for the price of two -- tell whoever takes the reservations. Some customers might wait while that employee hunts up a manager, who also knows nothing about the deal, and then wait again for someone from your hotel to ring back. Others might shift their attention to a rival hotel's deal, advertised right under yours.
• When you take a booking for a family of four, say, provide enough beds. Obviously most couples share a bed, but it's not on to supply one single bed for two children aged nine and five. Don't argue the point, saying that "some people" would put two kids in one bed. We're paying for bed and breakfast; the bed part isn't optional.
• Clue your customers in. While going for a run the morning we were leaving one hotel, I came across a playground tucked away in the hotel's grounds. Considering we were travelling with two children, someone might have mentioned it.
• Hire someone to clear tables in your restaurant at busy times. Yes, it will cost extra money. Then again, what is it costing you to turn away hungry customers who see umpteen tables covered in dirty dishes?
• Maintain the gym. Every hotel we stayed at, even the smallest, advertised the fact it had a gym. Obviously, the industry has realised this can persuade customers to make a booking. Yet hoteliers apparently don't expect those same customers to actually use the equipment, which explains the exercycles with wobbly seats, wonky treadmills with operating instructions in Chinese, and the absence of anybody to ask for help.
• If you run a suburban hotel that can be reached only by car, don't feather-bed by charging for parking.
But if you can't resist, add the charge to the final bill instead of making customers remember to validate a ticket. Spare us scenes of public humiliation such as the one as I witnessed.
As I was waiting to check out, I heard a shriek from a speaker near the receptionist. A driver couldn't exit the parking garage. The receptionist asked (coldly) if he'd paid. He said, yes, he'd paid for his overnight stay.
Ah, but what about parking? That costs €4 extra.
He'd have to come back to the desk. He said there were cars behind him. The receptionist said he'd better get them to move.
Presumably he did, because soon he appeared, purple in the face and ranting to me that "everything about this hotel is a nightmare".
No doubt he also told all his friends, colleagues and neighbours.
To treat a customer like a collared shoplifter, all for the sake of €4, never adds up.