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Sea Life making plans for future reopening

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Pat O'Suilleabhain at Sea Life Bray

Pat O'Suilleabhain at Sea Life Bray

Pat O'Suilleabhain at Sea Life Bray

While the doors of Sea Life in Bray are closed to the public, the team is still there to look after the animals.

General manager Pat O Suilleabhain said that while closed, the aquarium's overheads haven't shrunk that much.

'The guest experience is the only piece we have cut back on,' he said. 'The utility costs are the same as ever. Most of that is tied up in life support equipment and lighting. The lights are switched on and off.'

He said that the other duties include getting the food prep done and feeding the creatures who reside there, and making sure all of the fish and animals are in good health.

'They have to get the same level of welfare and care now as they did before,' said Pat. 'It's a significant cost. We have to try to work out how we balance the whole thing and how to cut down costs as much as possible with no revenue at all coming in. We need to be able to keep going until such time as we can re-open.'

Pat said that he is currently working on a re-opening plan and what that might look like.

'The experience for the visitors will change. For example, we won't have people gathered to watch the feeding. Tickets would previously have been valid for the day, but will now be sold online for a particular time slot.'

He said that social distancing will be maintained, and the number of people on the site at any one time will be limited.

'It's difficult when you are looking at an unprecedented scenario,' said Pat. 'There is nothing to work it off. All we can do is look at how other businesses in other parts of the world have been trading.'

He said that looking at the worst case scenario, they will be operating at 10 per cent of the usual volume. 'Potentially this time next year, maybe at 85 per cent of where we would usually be at.'

Pat said that the challenge is to stay profitable and continue to invest in upgrading life support systems and guest experience operations.

He said that it isn't exactly clear where they sit in the road map. 'It's either phase three or phase four,' said Pat. 'So either June 29 or July 20. I hope June 29. There again, it will be with a very different landscape than we had before.'

He said that all the phases have rationales, for example public health. 'From my perspective, if we can comply with the rationale we should be able to re-open. It is as much about what we do to reassure visitors that we are doing everything possible so that they can protect themselves and minimise risk. We are building up a brand new risk assessment sheet, and looking to get clarity.'

Pat said that school groups and language school groups is the type of business that is gone under these circumstances. 'Small family groups would be the majority of our summer visitors anyway,' he said. He said that people in Sea Life and many other scenarios will be learning to change their behaviours in the future. 'They will hopefully book a time slot and turn up for it, and be willing to queue and wait as we have to slow the rate at which people come in,' he said.

'I'm confident we will create an experience people will find rewarding and enjoyable,' he said.

'This year is a question of minimising loss, looking at break-even points,' he said. 'We'll see what the government can do - there is talk about reducing VAT rates and other initiatives.'

He said that Sea Life is in a better position than some attractions as its market is mainly domestic tourism. Attractions such as the Guinness Storehouse rely mainly on overseas travellers.

'We have to be positive and look at the upsides,' said Pat.

'The road map at least gives some sense of when we can open - best case scenario two months. In the meantime, the team has been able to get things done such as deep cleaning - it's difficult to find the time to do certain things in a seven-day-a-week operation.'

He said that as staff have been outside having their lunch break, many people have been asking when they might re-open and people are saying they are looking forward to a visit.

Steps that will be put in place will include an enhanced cleaning regime, extra hand sanitisers, screens, cashless transactions, and a reduction in the size of the gift shop for ease of movement. The toys and play area will have to be removed, along with the popular Lego area near the shark tank.

At the moment a team of 12 is looking after the facility, with members on shifts of two at a time and in different parts of the building, and different areas for lunch and breaks. The wage subsidy scheme has made it possible for the employees to remain with Sea Life, the organisation topping up the government offering to meet their full income. Some employees have taken salary cuts and some part time people are not working at this time.

Wicklow People