Of all sectors, Ireland’s hotels are likely to shoulder the most extensive of hospitality tweaks and changes this season. We may need to brace ourselves for perspex at receptions desks, new lift etiquette in larger hotels and arguably the most regretful of all, the indefinite demise of the beloved breakfast buffet. Elsewhere guests can expect everything from cleverly branded hygiene policies, sparser seating in hotel lobbies and more curtailed indoor leisure facilities. But just as we as consumers have adapted to changes with our SuperValu runs and Penneys hauls, it’s time to embrace our hotels receiving their Covid-19 turnover - and not be deterred by the hype.
Brendan Comerford is General Manager of Castlemartyr Resort in East Cork; he’s confident the guest experience this season at the five-star property will remain ultimately more similar to past offerings, than not. “We’re really looking forward to welcoming all guests back to Castlemartyr Resort in the coming weeks,” he says.
And while aspects may be slightly different, we’re largely viewing them as enhancements. We’ve added extra terrace seating to our three restaurants to avail of our beautiful gardens and golf course views, while our luxury breakfasts will now be an all table-service affair.
Like many properties fortunate enough to have outdoor space, there’s also an added spotlight on green amenities. “We’ve 220 acres of grounds here so we’ll certainly be encouraging our guests to take advantage of woodland walks, our Teddy Bear's picnics and garden games and that’s not to mention the selection of Blue Flag beaches all just a short drive away,” he adds. Ireland’s al-fresco culture may be about to kick-off - weather permitting, of course.
Wellness in the Wilds
The spa sector faced an uncertain outlook amid the pandemic with treatments from Swedish massages to body wraps appearing a little too close-contact for comfort. But that outlook is fortunately changed; Ireland’s only destination spa Monart in Wexford will be reopening on August 3 while many of Ireland’s hotel spas will be making their comeback to adapted offerings.
Joining the spa menu however, will be the increasing number of small-scale independent wellness centres dotted around the coast. The wonderfully named Sólás na Mara -Solace of the Sea- is a seaweed bathhouse in Waterford’s Ring Gaeltacht which allows clients to luxuriate within stepping distance of the sea. “I think people will seek wellness breaks with a little more unplugged atmosphere this season,” explains Cian Ó Conchúir, physical therapist and owner of the quay-side haven.
With our location right on the sea, it allows people to enjoy their self-care in a beautifully natural setting, while we celebrating the most natural of Irish ingredients.
While AirBnb suffered a virtual collapse during the pandemic, the unlocking of tourism should see the platform enjoy a summer surge of bookings. Self-catering listings -as opposed to the site’s house-share options- will make attractive break options for Irish visitors seeking private accommodation, while Airbnb have ramped up their Covid-19 cleaning guidelines in an attempt to assure guests that they’re in safe hands.
Fresh from her success as a finalist on RTÉ’s Home of the Year, Saoirse Fitzgerald is an Airbnb Superhost and owner of one of the most sought-after rentals in Ireland, The Lighthouse Keeps Her in Youghal.
“I think now more than ever people really appreciate the contactless aspect of a getaway stay - not to mention the air of detachment you already feel in a 200 year old lighthouse keeper's cottage,” she says. “Airbnb is how I tend to holiday myself and I guess I want my guests to enjoy that same reassurance for their stays as I do for mine; be it contactless check-ins with security pads, a professionally cleaned property and above all that sense of escapism and calm which we're all looking for now."
Camping is set to become a much easier holiday pitch this summer with the ever-growing appeal of the great outdoors. Ireland’s campsite may look a little different this year, however. Expect to see less tents this summer, due to the extra pressure those campers may place on shared-facilities, while Irish camper-van owners, who traditionally beeline to the U.K. or Europe, are expected to largely find a berth at home.
While camping is set to boost, so too, is glamping, as travellers experiment with comfort breaks away from the traditional hotel model. Bookings for this season are “off the scale”, according to Kyra Fingleton of Glamping Under the Stars in Laois. “I think the appeal is down to the surging staycation market, but also guests looking for something a little bit different.”
That difference is fresh air, privacy and even a little luxury. “We’ve built extra bathrooms this season so every unit now has their own private facilities, while every suite now has their own private chiminea, so guests can toast marshmallows under stars with a little more comfort.”
Ok, we realise you’ve got cabin fever. But despite the irony of the concept, one of the most emerging staycation trends for this summer may well be cruises on the glorious River Shannon. Although massively popular with continental visitors, Shannon cruises remain a massively underrated holiday niche for Irish holiday-makers, but attractive deals at the moment -think €200 per night for a couple’s cruiser - or even less if travelling with a larger party-, together with the appeal of “the waterway less travelled”, should woo bookings.
Emerald Star, one of the most established boat hire companies in Ireland, bill their breaks as “the ideal social distancing holiday”. “I think the appeal of a Shannon cruise this summer is we're not expecting our clients to see a massive change to their classic holiday experience,” explains their MD, Cheryl Power. “We're obviously enforcing all the recommended safety guidelines, but our guests can largely still enjoy the open water with minimal encroachment, just as they love it.”
The company is also rolling out a new ‘Covid Safety Charter’ and for those trepidatious about a first time self-cruise, all pre-departure advice and safety videos can be given digitally in advance.
While the Instagram effect has seen many of Ireland’s top wonders, from the Giant’s Causeway to Sliabh Liag, swarm with tourists in recent years, tanked overseas visitor numbers could make summer 2020 the perfect window to reconnect with some of Ireland's top attractions. The country’s top natural wonder, the Cliffs of Moher, is gearing up for a domestic surge, with a number of measures being drafted to ensure the attraction keeps on trending. "We've actually created a number of changes to adapt to the season like advance bookings,” says Geraldine Enright, Director of the Cliffs of Moher Experience.
“We’ve additional outdoor dining space and picnic areas, guided tours for family units while, routes are way marked along the walkways and viewing areas cliffs are being so visitors can enjoy the scene safely.” Here’s to a picture perfect, summer.