By Kieran O’Mahony and Jackie Keogh
SELF-catering providers and hotels across West Cork are gearing up for what is expected to be a bumper summer season in the region.
Bookings are reportedly extremely busy in the sector, despite the lack of certainty around dates, with many popular areas almost fully booked, for July and August.
The self-catering sector – which accounts for a third of the tourism sector on the Wild Atlantic Way – has been ‘forgotten by government’ despite the fact that it is the safest way to welcome tourists back to West Cork, according to Durrus-based Máire Ní Mhurchú.
There are indications this week that a June re-opening date will be confirmed, but operators have slammed the lack of clarity until now.
Ms Ní Mhurchú, the recently appointed head of the Irish Self-Catering Federation (ISCF), told The Southern Star that the Federation has joined with caravan and camping parks, boat hire operators, and activity providers in calling for ‘a clear, early re-opening date’.
The ISCF chief said a lot of confusion has been caused by the fact that visitor attractions were allowed to re-open – such as Office of Public Work sites like Garinish Island – while other outdoor activities remained closed.
‘Self-contained accommodation hasn’t been allowed to re-open either, yet when I go to Bantry to do my shopping all I can see on the pier road is lines and lines of camper vans,’ she added.
‘The government has been going on and on about hotels and restaurants yet, up to this week, they had said nothing about self-catering, which is the safest section of the tourism economy.’
Peter Warburton of Cottages for Couples in Skibbereen suggested that the Irish government should follow the UK lead and have a phased re-opening of tourism establishments.
‘This makes perfect sense,’ he said. ‘If people within Cork county can travel to West Cork, then an overnight stay where there is no interaction or congregation with other people should be perfectly safe.’
In 2019, he estimated that Cottages for Couples brought 4,000 people to West Cork, which resulted in a €1.2m spend in the local economy.
Paul Keane of the Inish Beg Estate near Baltimore, which offers self-catering cottages, told The Southern Star that they have limited places available this summer.
‘We have some space in June and very limited space in July and August,’ said Paul.
‘We’re ready to go, and people are just eager to get out and travel – we’ve already had good numbers coming to the gardens since we re-opened.’
It’s a similar story for Peter and Anna Warburton, who said they are 100% fully booked for the summer.
‘These are in fact bookings from last year, and we allowed them to re-schedule for this year. Guests have been very patient and supportive and, like us, just want an opening date at this stage,’ said Peter.
Meanwhile, the surge in interest in camping during Covid has seen Elaine Sexton of Sextons Caravan and Camping in Timoleague see an unprecedented level of calls and emails since the start of this year.
‘Camping is definitely in vogue and there’s a huge pent-up demand to get out. We noticed the same last year and local businesses are getting a bounce, too. It’s the safest holiday you could have, and people just want to be outdoors in a time of Covid. My colleagues around the country are experiencing the same interest, ‘ Elaine told The Southern Star.
‘We still have availability for pitches without electricity during the summer, but July does seem to be exceptionally busy. We are noticing, too, that people are booking for much longer, they are staying for three or four weeks to visit places from their base.’
The Barleycove Holiday Park also said they are fully booked up for the summer.
Cork South West FF Deputy Christopher O’Sullivan agreed that ‘opening caravan parks makes sense.’
‘People are coming anyway, but they’re being forced to park on roadsides and in parks. Caravans have nowhere to set up other than by the side of the road. There are no toilet facilities, and there’s an increasing problem with waste disposal,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Annette O’Donovan of the Westlodge Hotel in Bantry said there is occupancy at their hotel for the summer.
‘Some people may be panicking and then they’re holding places that they may not use, which can be annoying. My fear is that people are hedging their bets and booking three or four places for fear they will get nothing,’ said Annette.
She said working out recruitment for the hotel was difficult with no definite re-opening date before now.
Latest figures from the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) show that in the South West, including Cork, occupancy levels are at 35% for July, which are slightly ahead of the national average. Chair of the IHF Fergal Harte is encouraging people to plan their holidays and breaks early, while there is still choice.