By Isabel Conway
What a difference a year makes…or not! Back early in June 2020 Travel Times chatted with hoteliers preparing to open post lockdown one. Nobody could have visualized then that several more lockdowns would result with many months of lost business, spanning the first half of 2021.
A world in which masks, hand sanitizers and social distancing would be the norm beckoned.
Gerry Moore General Manager, 4* Sligo Park Hotel says they were “pleasantly surprised” by the Government announcement on a June 2 re-opening, much earlier than anticipated. “Even though we stayed open for essential workers through all the subsequent lockdowns it was a lost year in many respects as we were fully operational for just three and a half months since the first opening of hospitality on June 29, 2020”.
Once the official re-opening date for hotels was announced their phones “ never stopped hopping”, reports Moore, a native of Balbriggan, Co Dublin who has worked at the Sligo Park for the past 29 years. “We see a new and welcome trend- bookings for longer lengths of stay of 3- 5 nights”. The hit TV drama series’ Normal People’, much of which was filmed in and around Sligo town and nearby beach locations, and improved roads infrastructure is bound to also create a home tourism bonanza this year for the area.
Sligo Park dining
“We are very fortunate to be situated along the Wild Atlantic Way which is the number one route people want to take and a lot of money has been invested in the town of Sligo to make it more attractive for visitors” he explains. “We have Rosses Point, Strand hill and other fabulous beaches and coastline walks on our doorstep too”. The hotel had completed a major €5million refurbishment when COVID struck but the enforced closure enabled them to put the finishing touches in place.
Con Horgan CEO of Castlerosse Park Resort, famed for its sublime surroundings overlooking Killarney National Park points out that they have been able to hold their overnight rates at 2020 prices passing on the reduction of nearly 4pc in VAT on to consumers. “We have 39 self-units in the resort and they are pretty much full now until the end of August and on the hotel side we still have availability in June and later on, but July and August are booking out fast; it’s going to be a very busy staycation summer here”.
The Lodges Castlerosse Park resort, Killarney
A passionate hotelier, who has penned a fascinating history of the Castlerosse property Con Horgan predicts that the resort can easily adapt to any new safety guidelines added to those that already existed and were tried tested after Ireland’s first lockdown re-opening. “We have a fantastic core staff, some of whom have been with us for many years and being a seasonal operation the serviced sections can easily adapt to the latest re-opening”, he points out.
“We are lucky to have extensive space in the hotel, keeping everyone safe and socially distanced without losing the cosy atmosphere in our bar, dining and relaxation areas and outside there’s over 25,000 acres of national park to wander around”. The re-branded Castlerosse Park Resort 120 bed hotel and 39 golf lodges and holiday homes, leisure club, spa and 9- hole golf course has always welcomed more Irish than international visitors so a combination of loyal repeat visits and significant new business augurs for a great season ahead, predicts Con Horgan.
The re-opening of Kinsale’s Trident Hotel, overlooking the picturesque Co Cork harbour, will be a watershed moment for Trish Grey. A native of the town, the newly appointed General Manager, succeeded popular veteran hotelier Hal McElroy who retired last December. Tasked with overseeing preparations in recent months for a seamless start- up she hopes that this popular four- star property will experience the end of the final chapter on COVID lockdowns.
“I am optimistic”, she declares, “now the vaccination roll- out has gathered pace we should be able to stay open to continue receiving guests and we can draw a line through all the difficulties of the past year. ” Trish who joined the hotel’s staff whilst still in her late teens knows every nook and cranny and all of the regular guests at the Trident. “I’m looking forward to seeing people again and our great staff coming back; most of them will return, except for some of the accommodation assistants from Eastern Europe who permanently settled back home;”
“I think people will do what they are told to keep everyone safe, observing social distancing and wearing masks. It has been a difficult adjustment for everyone but at last it looks like we’re approaching the end of the tunnel”.
Setting the wedding reception scene at the Trident Hotel
Bookings are flying in, she confirms and enquires about weddings are also resuming. Whilst the numbers attending weddings are set at 25 Trish points out that planning is difficult because the information is still unclear on some aspects, such as whether live music will be allowed. The Trident Hotel’s first wedding for six people was booked for early June and they have several more weddings ready to go ahead in July.
Boutique Kilkenny Pembroke Hotel
John Ryan, owner of boutique Pembroke hotel, Kilkenny is convinced that the hospitality sector can seamlessly provide a great visitor experience, despite any ongoing challenges.
“We’ve seen bookings multiply but then Kilkenny has always had so much to offer as a short break staycation and last summer was really strong but this one will be much better. Irish people are experiencing the magic on our doorstep; we are encouraging guests to get out and discover nearby attractions. Harking back to the past and our roots in the historic garage property we’ve developed some great road trips for guests too”.
The hotel is built on the site of landmark Statham’s garage where purpose built racing cars, such as the legendary Statham-Ford special of the 1930s was built, taking top race prizes of the day. The Pembroke has filled a niche adult market placing it apart from properties with family geared amenities.
The hotel’s general manager Paul Broderick says they are awaiting the precise protocols regarding seating limitations whilst expecting it would remain at 2 m. But with the advantage of spacious floor areas they vow there will be “no nasty screens in the dining room”. The hotel has also used smart technology with high level ventilation and air change for enhanced safety. The outdoor courtyard has been extended to cater for non-residents seating outside the hotel located near historic Kilkenny Castle and the period Ormond House and gardens.