Tourists return to hotspots, but Covid-19 nerves remain

Tourists return to hotspots, but Covid-19 nerves remain
Michael Farrell, owner, taking care of the summer bedding plants outside Farrell's Summerfield Bar, Youghal, Co. Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.

Back in May, there were understandable nerves in the country's tourism hotspots.

Bookings at hotels and restaurants had been wiped out. Pubs were shut.

And as well as the health impact on some customers, at least one of their own - popular Kinsale publican Seamus O'Connor - died from Covid-19.

All most businesses had in the face of uncertain future was hope domestic tourists would save them from financial ruin as the country struggled to cope in the aftermath of Covid-19 outbreak in February.

That has turned out to be well-placed hope, and business from tourism in Clonakilty, Kinsale, and Youghal in Co Cork, Killarney in Co Kerry and Kilkee in Co Clare is back.

But while things are looking up, there is still a nervousness across the region.

These are fears Covid-19 could shut everything back down again.

While the Covid-19 figures for Clare remain unchanged this month so far, according to the latest available statistics, they are very slowly creeping back up across Cork.

According to the latest available official figures for July up to July 8, there have been nine new confirmed cases.

Visitor Responsibility

That it has happened in the town has annoyed many, not least those businesses in Killarney who signed up to the recently-launched Safe Destination Kerry Programme.

Laura Tangney, Killarney Jaunting Cars pictured in Killarney at the weekend. Picture: Don MacMonagle
Laura Tangney, Killarney Jaunting Cars pictured in Killarney at the weekend. Picture: Don MacMonagle

Laura Tangney, who runs Killarney Jaunting Cars Ltd said we just need some common sense. 

"As a business, we are very wise on Covid-19. Now we just need the people.

“A single case could just wreck everything. We are very safe and you can see our numbers are holding. But we are all watching that number.

“As a business community, we are all trying our best and we are learning. But the visitors must remember, that they need to be responsible.

“And it’s very hard to say: ‘You need to be responsible for our livelihood’. You are wondering: ‘Will they be responsible to let us survive?’.

People don’t realise all our livelihoods are at stake.

Covid-19 Closures

Youghal pub landlord Michael Farrell, of Farrell's Bar in Summerhill, has invested a lot of money in reopening. 

He is lucky enough to own a large pub with plenty of open space in and around it.

“My one big fear is the numbers. If they keep going up, our biggest worry is the Government will just close everything down. And that will be disastrous.

“Many businesses are on their knees and the last thing they need is to be punished for the mistakes of a small minority of people.” 

He’s especially concerned because landlords like him have had to restock their bars.

Depending on the size of the bar, that can cost anything from €10,000 to €40,000.

But so far, he is pleased with how things are going.

“It’s going very well and much better than I expected,” he said.

And I would be very optimistic about the future. Business is on a par with last year - that’s how busy I am at the moment.

Kerry hotelier Patrick O’Donoghue, CEO of the Killarney-based Gleneagle Group, said allowing hotels to open on June 29th instead of the original date of July 20th was a huge bonus.

“And in this climate every single day counts. Occupancy levels have been increasing steadily since we opened.

“Our occupancy levels are down by 50% compared to this time last year. Demand is down across the hotel sector mainly because we are catering for reduced visitor numbers due to the fall off in overseas visitors.” 

Laura Tangney reopened her family’s jaunting car business on June 29. The first week was “dismal” but by the second week, things started to improve.

“I knew they weren’t going to be flooding in our gates from week one,” she said.

“And to be honest, I don’t know what we were going to expect. It’s all very unknown. It’s changing every day.

Councillor Cillian Murphy at Kilkee Beach, Co Clare. Picture : Eamon Ward
Councillor Cillian Murphy at Kilkee Beach, Co Clare. Picture : Eamon Ward

Clare County Council council Cillian Murphy, who lives in Kilkee, said the town is up and running again.

“The tourists are back and they are almost all Irish. At times, it is busier than what it would normally be for this time of the year.

“It’s difficult to get accommodation anywhere.” 

The only let down appears to have been the weather.

“It’s the ultimate irony,” he said.

“We had gorgeous sunshine during lock down but as soon as it was lifted, it has rained every since.” 

Ciaran Fitzgerald, who runs Kinsale’s Blue Haven Hotel, is happy with the way things are going.

He was one of the leading lights behind the west Cork town’s recovery plan. 

Signs of Hope

That included increased pedestrianisation, on street dining and a huge promotional effort under the campaign banner, the Kinsale Comeback Campaign.

The former chair of the town’s Chamber of Commerce and Tourism said retail is being well supported.

“Food and beverage has been strong since opening (on June 29) and building very well.

“The outdoor dining is making a huge difference on the fine days.” 

He said accommodation started slowly given the date change from July 20th back to June 29th which meant a short lead time in room bookings but these are - he said - again “rebuilding strongly”.

He said bookings are “looking good” from July 30 onwards.

Hotelier Dena O’Donovan of O’Donovan’s Hotel said she is almost entirely booked out for the summer.

Although all her bookings were cancelled with the lockdown in March, people are re-booking and plan to return.

“Things are going good,” she said. “I hardly have an empty room.

“And in the restaurants we have, we could be busier but we are having to turn people away because we are limited in how many we can have in at any one time.” 

Martin Shanahan, of Kinsale restaurant Fishy Fishy, is also recording increased bookings since he opened.

Weekends are, he says, “very strong”.

“It’s been very positive,” he said. To be fair, the Irish people have responded and have stayed at home and are coming out to dine with us, which is brilliant.” 

While business is definitely back up and running, it is still down around 70% of what it was last year.

“People have to realise that the 14 weeks that we were closed in the restaurant business, you cannot get that back,” he added.

“No matter what we do for the next three or four months, we’ll never get that business back.” However as he and other businesses in the town and indeed other tourist towns around the region, one of the next worries they have is a worry none of them thought they would ever have again: congestion.

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