“Sure, where else would you get it?”
The Irish summer holiday, that is. It’s having your breath taken away on the Conor Pass, It’s hopping on a ferry to some offshore island, and it’s negotiating the labyrinthine stone-walled roadways of the Burren trying to box-tick the parochial house from.
It’s seeing a humpback whale breach, finding that deserted beach and discovering a food truck — in the middle of nowhere — that serves the best fish tacos you’ve ever had.
You’ll hear the sounds of Gaeilge in Connemara, decipher Ulster-Scots in Antrim and convince yourself that surely Ireland must have more accents per square metre than anywhere else on Earth?
And when you’re hungry, it’s gourmet meal-kits in West Cork, fathers queuing for 99’s at Centra, and shifting the barbecue under the awning during a campsite downpour.
But when that weather finally clears, Connemara could be the Caribbean, West Cork looks like the Aegean, and everybody can finally agree, “Ireland, sure you wouldn’t go far beyond it!”.
Are we ready to do it all again?
After months of uncertainty — and some inevitable plot tweaks still ahead — 2021 sees Ireland gearing up for a second season of summer holidaying at home.
While in the run-up to last summer, there remained a certain long-shot that June or July could see foreign travel, this year, projections of vaccine roll-outs are suggesting a much greater likelihood the vast majority of us will be summering at home this year. It’s the Ring of Kerry, not Brittany; Cape Clear not Cape Town.
But why should that be seen as a consolation prize? According to Niall Tracey, director of marketing for Fáilte Ireland, this year’s staycation season is looking buoyant, on the back of overwhelmingly positive feedback from the Irish consumer in 2020.
“We’d a 30% increase in people holidaying at home,” Tracey told me this week. “And our research found that 85% of Irish tourists had a great time on their getaway which really bodes well for establishing the market for this summer and the future”.
As for rumours and anecdotes of a mass exodus to Ireland’s coasts this summer, if last year is anything to go by, that notion may be a red herring. “Our market research is showing that places may not be as booked out as suggested,” he tells me.
“There’s been a lot of talk of massive, pent up demand to holiday at home but it just wasn't true. 60% of people on the island of Ireland intended on going on a staycation in the Republic last year, however the eventual figure was only 29%”.
That would suggest that availability — and value — can be found, particularly by broadening our holiday horizons and realising the diversity of destinations to be discovered in Ireland.
When it comes to those destinations and getaways trends, it’s no surprise that the focus this year remains on aspects like rural areas, the outdoors and being able to breathe in the sea breeze, according to Tracey.
“We’re likely to see friends and family groups gathering for holidays this year too,” he tells me. “And perhaps less so, couples, who may have been spending a lot of time together already during lockdown”.
The coasts are set to be a veritable shore winner in 2021 too, but with many Irish travellers predicted to take a number of mini-breaks, rather than one extended one, there are interesting trends within that.
“People are looking for reassurance. So for that first trip, we see people returning to the favourite places; where they know they’ll have the mountains, the sea, great places to eat and the comfort of familiarity, but for the second trip, it will be somewhere new, somewhere they don't know so well.”
And amid this great escape to rural Ireland, what of the outlook for our towns and cities which have been particularly beleaguered by the pandemic? “85% of the Dublin tourism market was overseas before the pandemic.” Tracey tells me.
“That’s compared to about 60% elsewhere in the country. When it comes to Irish visitors and city breaks, we like to centre our trips around events; for example, a trip to the theatre in Dublin, going to the jazz festival in Cork or a game at Thomond Park for Limerick”.
With all events now largely parked, Fáilte Ireland will be driving campaigns to promote urban tourism for both inbound visitors and locals.
That’s all if the price is right, of course. Regarding concerns of rip-off rates and inflated prices in holiday spots across the country, Tracey encourages us to shop around — and to try somewhere new. "There's always a challenge in peak season, particularly if you're looking at spots like Lahinch, Dingle or Baltimore, price are going to be quite high”. He tells me.
“We’re not the cheapest destination, nor will we ever be. But if you look at how much free stuff there is to do in Ireland, from enjoying our beaches, to walking to exhibitions - we find we do well on value. The country is full of hidden gems. We know all the hero products out there but we also know how we love to stumble across somewhere new and to share with other people”.
From finding a hidden cove in West Waterford, exploring the lakes of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands or discovering a secret island off Donegal, summer 2021 may well show us how this little island of ours is a whole lot bigger than we ever imagined. So where are you thinking?