Staycation 2021 Q&A: Is anyone booking summer holidays yet? Will self-catering sell out?

Have you taken a punt on booking a home holiday this summer?

erhaps you moved a cancelled reservation forward from last year, or the approaching mid-term. Maybe you spotted a bargain on Airbnb in the depths of this January dirge, and clicked ‘reserve’.

Or maybe you’re just waiting to see what happens.

January is traditionally a month for booking summer holidays, and given the dull weather, ongoing lockdown and limited prospect of overseas breaks, conversations are starting around kitchen tables.

Nothing is certain, but staycations certainly seem a safer bet than sun holidays at this stage. Already, we’re seeing a bounce in self-catering searches, and campsites are reporting “phenomenal” interest in summer.

One site, Sir Rogers Caravan & Camping Park near Banna Bay in Co Kerry, posted on Facebook this week that “all our rental mobiles and log cabin are now fully booked and our long-term spaces are full” for 2021.

But even when lockdown does loosen, and the rollout of vaccines speeds up, don’t expect home holidays to return to normal in a hurry.

Center Parcs, for instance, has gone cashless, reduced capacity and is limiting access to its popular Subtropical Swimming Paradise to just two two-hour swims per three- or four-night stay.

Social distancing, mask-wearing, perspex screens and pre-booking of pool and breakfast slots will remain standard throughout Ireland this summer, and you can expect longer stays and high demand for coastal locations.

“I think since the pandemic began, we’ve all developed a renewed sense of how precious life is,” says Allen Flynn of the Flynn Hotel Group.

“Having lived with different levels of restrictions, there’s definitely an appetite to do as much as possible,” he adds. “There’s an overwhelming sense of ‘let’s get out there and make the most of every day’.”

Here’s how we’re thinking of doing that this year.

When can we expect to staycation again?

The short answer? Nobody knows.

Ireland’s Christmas reopening proved catastrophic, and hospitality businesses now find themselves bracing to remain closed for months.

St Patrick’s Day is the traditional start to Ireland’s tourism season, but few expect the Government to target a public holiday for any meaningful re-opening, and overseas bookings are practically non-existent.

Some hotels have launched Easter packages, but these are in the minority.

“We’re guessing as much as anyone,” Margaret Ryan, Marketing Director for the Park Hotel, Dromquinna Manor and new venture The Landsdowne in Kenmare, Co Kerry, told me this week.

“But we feel that they won’t allow the country open for Easter, and rightly so. If they do, they might have it at Level 3, with no inter-county travel.”

“I think we will be open for the May Bank Holiday weekend. That’s realistic, and we’d be really happy to open for May. The worst-case scenario is the June Bank Holiday weekend. If it is, so be it.”

Is self-catering booking up for summer?

When it comes to Irish summer holidays, as opposed to short breaks, early bookers tend to hit self-catering and resorts before turning to hotels.

“Bookings for July and August 2021 are very positive,” reports Eilís McDermott of Trident Holiday Homes. “Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for March, April, May or June.”

“We definitely think we are in a good position with self-catering accommodation, giving people peace of mind that they are booking somewhere that can offer peace and seclusion,” she adds.

“We are noticed 40pc are new customers, and are seeing more families than groups.”

Self-catering appeals to those looking for standalone accommodations where they can control access and cleaning and, restrictions permitting, are widely expected to fare well in summer – particularly by the coast.

Hotels with self-catering options are also attracting interest.

“Our most popular product so far this year, and one which we expected to be busy again, are the self-catering holiday homes we have on-site at The Park in Dungarvan,” says Allen Flynn of Flynn Hotels.

In Cork, Fota Island Resort is “really busy with some dates over the summer already booked out,” says General Manager John O’Flynn.

“The interest is strong in both the hotel and in our self-catering lodges, but self-catering is probably slightly ahead at the moment… we’re also seeing a lot of repeat business and bookings from families who really want activities to do together.”

Read our 50 best self-catering stays in Ireland here.

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Mannix Point, Cahirciveen, on the Ring of Kerry. Photo: Twitter / @Camping_Ireland

What about camping and caravan breaks?

“Pent-up demand is going to be huge again this summer,” says Con Quill, CEO of the Irish Camping and Caravan Council (ICCC).

“We had a phenomenal burst last summer. It was a short-lived season, but if we can get open earlier this year, there is huge demand.

“There’s probably an element of saying, ‘Look, we’ll book our pitch on a site and stay for a week or two and we’ll be guaranteed our holiday. Whereas if we leave it until later on, we may not get it’.”

It’s not rocket science. The reassurance of being outdoors, self-contained and connected with nature “suits our business”, as Quill says. Coastal sites were particularly in-demand last year, he notes.

At this point, some camping and caravan businesses are adopting a wait-and-see approach. But those that opened up bookings in the past week or so “have seen a phenomenal demand again”, he says.

“What they’ve also noticed is that people are booking in to stay for a week, two weeks, three weeks – and also looking at bringing a caravan and leaving it on site for longer-term stays.

“A lot of people who would have a caravan might do a week on a site, before going out to a sunny destination for a week or two,” he adds. “Maybe they are resigned to not going overseas this year.”

The sentiment is similar right across Europe, he adds.

Is anyone booking hotel breaks now?

“People are booking self-catering for the summer; they’re not booking hotels as yet,” says John Brennan of Dromquinna Manor.

Most hotels I contacted say they are fielding more enquiries than bookings at this stage, almost all from Irish people, with the bulk of bookings rescheduled after previous cancellations.

However, reservations are strengthening “from the beginning of quarter three onwards”, says Roisín Wallace of the Original Irish Hotels collection.

August and September are showing the highest demand, she says, and some hotels are noticing guests locking in bookings for places they enjoyed last year to avoid disappointment.

“Definitely people are looking for a longer Irish resort stay just in case they can’t get away,” says Paul Finnegan of the Ashdown Park and Amber Springs Hotels in Gorey, Co Wexford.

Summer bookings tend to start with resorts, he points out. “I imagine we will see more of a bounce in February and March when things become clearer around the vaccine and summer.”

“We are already getting some enquiries for the summer,” notes Fergal Harte, General Manager at The Kingsley Hotel & Spa in Cork.

That’s unusual for a city hotel in this climate, but “probably a reflection of the frustration people are feeling due to the current lockdown and the hope that the vaccine rollout will provide everyone with the confidence to go out and enjoy the summer,” he says.

What about guesthouses?

“On a normal year we would be full already and refusing people for St Patrick’s weekend, Easter and for May and September with limited availability for June, July and August,” says Helen Heaton of Castlewood House in Dingle.

“We have had cancellations already for both of these weekends, as it is increasingly looking like we will not be allowed to open.”

“We have a few really lovely experiential packages on our website, like ‘Shadow of the Blaskets’ and ‘Blasket Basket’, which we have gotten a lot of enquiries about and bookings for, as the focus is on walking and wide-open spaces.”

“Basically, I think most people are waiting to see what happens.”

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‘Blasket Basket’ Island Package from Castlewood House Dingle

What other trends are we seeing?

Walking and outdoor activities are hot tickets.

Maria Ruddy of Clew Bay Hotel in Co Mayo, a member of the Original Irish Hotels collection, will be focusing on “promoting a lot of activity and soft adventure packages”, for example.

They include walking, hiking Croagh Patrick, cycling the greenway, kayaking “and combining some of them with foodie experiences”, she says.

“Packages are all the rage,” adds Louis Murphy of The Dunraven arms in Adare, Co Limerick. “Primarily because guests are more content to eat in the hotel for safety reasons and also they know they will get a booking in the bar or restaurant. They know this summer will be very difficult to get bookings in bars or restaurants, as it was last autumn.”

“When things do lift, people will be craving experiences,” adds Olivia Duff, Proprietor of The Headfort Arms Hotel in Kells, Co Meath.

How long are people booking for?

“Typically Irish guests would book a two-night break, but this summer they are mostly booking three-, four- or five-night breaks, similar to what we saw last year,” says Eoin Walsh, General Manager of Ballynahinch Castle Hotel in Connemara.

“The majority of our bookings are in the main hotel, but our two substantial self-catering offerings — Lettery Lodge and Owenmore Cottage — are seeing strong enquiries from families, with some dates fully booked already,” he adds.

“Usually Irish bookings are two to three nights,” says John Costelloe, Director of Sales & Marketing at The K Club. “Now we are seeing a longer stay, up to five nights.”

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Tulfarris Hotel and Golf Resort, Co Wicklow

What happens if I have to cancel my trip?

“It is the most asked question on the phone,” says Elaina Fitzgerald Kane of Fitzgerald’s Woodlands House Hotel in Adare. “’Can I cancel if something happens?’ The answer has always been yes!”

“Flexibility is a key factor; guests want to be able to have the freedom to postpone or cancel should the need arise,” agrees Emer Corridon of Cahernane House Hotel in Killarney.

Ireland’s hotels, campsites, self-catering and B&Bs are acutely aware of the uncertainty facing holidaymakers due to Covid-19, and many have changed their cancellation policies to reflect that.

Many, but not all – it’s still important to check those T&Cs, and holidaymakers should think hard before paying non-refundable deposits at this stage.

Another change? “Advance purchase rates are a thing of the past for the moment,” notes Clodagh Pryce, Sales and Marketing Manager at Farnham Estate in Co Cavan.

Any other trends to report?

There’s no doubt that, when it’s safe to do so, we’ll want to reunite with family and friends, and “reunion breaks” have featured in Fáilte Ireland’s consumer sentiment research right throughout the pandemic.

“We are seeing a trend toward family reunions in the summer,” says John Costelloe of The K Club.

As well as longer bookings, he says guests are asking about activities like horse-riding, walking and cycling, as well as outdoor dining options. “Those booking are multi-generation families and groups of friends.”

“A lot of our stays are linked to special occasions – birthdays, honeymoons, anniversaries, reunions,” says Honor Byrne of the CLIFF Group, whose properties include the Cliff at Lyons in Co Kildare.

“For the summer, we are seeing an increase in multi-generational family groups. Again, this would have been common for inbound international clients, but not so much for our Irish set.

“It appears we now want to plan trips including the grandparents and perhaps some cousins etc. It’s reunion-style travel, allowing families some together time after spending so much time apart.”

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Family Get-togethers. Photo: Getty Images/Caiaimage

Will older people feel safe holidaying in Ireland?

Older people have cocooned longer and harder than most, may have accumulated savings and tend to have fewer work and parenting commitments. As they line up to receive earlier vaccinations, could we see them form the first wave of ‘vaxication’ bookings?

GoldenIreland.ie is a travel website for the actively retired, and 76pc of respondents in a recent survey of over 500 members said having the Covid-19 vaccine would make them feel safer about travel.

There was some good news for Irish hotels, too. 95pc said they would feel safe staying in a hotel in Ireland, while 100pc said they would feel safer if the hotel had the Fáilte Ireland Safety Charter.

By contrast, just 15pc said they were considering a holiday overseas this year.

Speaking of overseas travel… what are the chances?

2021 bookings have been minimal so far, according to the Irish Travel Agents’ Association, “due in part to the slow rollout of vaccinations and consumers’ lingering fears surrounding Covid-19”.

Travel Agents believe vaccination rollout has to progress before consumer confidence and a safe return to travel will be viable, and most bookings being made now are to reschedule cancelled 2020 trips, or for later this year.

Some 400,000 people have postponed holidays from last year.

With such a fluid situation, and travel rules changing from country to country, the ITAA has advised people to read T&Cs carefully, paying attention to flexibility and cancellation policies, and to book with a company established in Ireland, as they will be subject to Irish consumer law.

“So far there has been a trickle of bookings from September onwards, but no great numbers to any particular destination. In addition to this, younger people probably won’t receive the vaccine until some time in late summer, which has certainly had an effect on bookings,” said Pat Dawson, CEO of the Association.

Online Editors