It's a busy time for Maura Bell and her team at the Irish National Heritage Park. The countdown is well and truly on and on Monday of next week, they will open the gates of the 35 acre park to the general public for the first time since the Covid restrictions kicked in.
Combining the role of county councillor and Manager at the Heritage Park, Maura is a busy woman at the best of times. However, in the past week she and her staff have been putting all the required safety measures in place to ensure they are compliant and can successfully re-open. Although the park will re-open on June 8, restrictions are still in place that will limit things to visitors from a 20km radius and the team will also have to keep an eye on the numbers admitted.
As with businesses right across the tourism sector, the park will be at a loss of overseas visitors this year, however, Maura is still feeling optimistic that they can rise to meet the challenge.
'Initially, we're obviously just looking at the local market,' she said.
'We'll be looking to welcome back our loyal local customers. Then I suppose for July and August we'll look towards local, regional and national. I suppose we're probably luckier than most in that probably 65% of our business is from the domestic market anyway.'
'You can't get complacent at a time like this though. It's about growing consumer confidence and ensuring people feel safe and in a secure environment in the park. Ultimately, heritage is for fun and entertainment, so we're looking to ensure that everything is in place so people can return and enjoy the park once again.'
With the tourism industry one of the big losers in the Covid-19 crisis, ultimately the Irish National Heritage Park is set to be down too.
'The way it'll work is that people will reserve their tickets online because we have to monitor the numbers in the park,' Maura explains.
'But ultimately, I suppose we might not reach 20% of what we did last year. Having said that we have very loyal customers in our Wexford Reward Card Holders and we look forward to seeing them all back again.'
In one of her many weekly Zoom calls, Cllr Bell meets with the management of other visitor attractions around the county. The overwhelming feeling is that they've become a forgotten entity in the Covid fall-out.
'There are a lot of grants out there but we seem to fall between the cracks and aren't eligible for any of them,' Cllr Bell said.
'For the trading online grant, you need to have less than ten employees, which rules us out. For the restart grant, it's worked out on rates and we're a not-for-profit entity so that rules us out. We've raised the issue with Fáilte Ireland and others, but in the meantime we're having to purchase expensive PPE and other necessities to re-open without any kind of grant funding.'
With temperatures soaring and the sun beating down, the Heritage Park looks resplendent at the moment.
'We were working away doing certain bits and pieces in recent weeks,' Maura explains.
'A 35-acre park doesn't just stop growing. Also we have our falcons and owls who needed to be fed and to fly. We do have a lot more wild-flower areas in the park now and the bees love it and it looks great.'
During lockdown, the park staff also brought history to life via their Facebook page with a virtual tour of the ages, which was a particular hit for parents and children, desperately seeking some educational entertainment at home.
However, nothing quite does it like a visit and Maura and her team are looking forward to finally throwing the gates open again next week.