BY JACKIE KEOGH AND KIERAN O’MAHONY
A RECENT decision by the Revenue Commissioners to exclude caravan and camping parks from the Covid-19 Restriction Support Scheme has been described as unfair.
On December 4th, Revenue updated its website to exclude all outdoor activity businesses, particularly camping and caravan sites.
The fortunes of caravan and camping parks in West Cork was mixed this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with those offering overnight accommodation most severely affected.
Tossie Hayes of the Caravan Park in Owenahincha admitted they did not open on June 29th – they opened instead on July 10th, after they had all the necessary precautions in place.
He said their season, as a fixed mobile home park, was ‘good, considering’ and he paid tribute to Cork County Council for waiving rates – a reduction that they passed on to the residents of the mobile homes.
He said the problem in West Cork is that those who operate touring sites – namely those who provide camping, motor homes and touring caravans sites on a nightly basis – had a much tougher season and deserve to be included in the Covid-19 Restriction Support Scheme.
According to Mr Hayes, ‘some operators in West Cork did not open this year because they believed it would be next to impossible to ensure social distancing and the required hourly sanitising of communal services.
‘Here in Owenahincha, where people came to stay in their own mobile homes, we just got on with it. We did our homework and were very careful, and that was hugely appreciated by our customers.
‘So many of them told us they were desperate for a break. They were dying to get out of the city and happily agreed to all of the terms, especially social distancing, which made it safe for everyone.
‘Mentally, people were cracking up and coming to their mobile home represented freedom,’ he said.
Meanwhile, the owners of the Hungry Hill Lodge campsite on the Beara Peninsula have also criticised the government‘s decision.
Speaking to The Southern Star, Owen Johnston, who has been running the campsite with his wife Barbara for the past eight years, said he can’t understand how they are expected to survive without these vital financial supports.
‘We would normally be open this time of the year but we’re not and we only had a 10-week trading period during the summer when it was viable to open,’ said Owen.
‘It’s been the hardest and most stressful year we’ve had and this decision by the Revenue doesn’t help.’
When they were open earlier in the summer, Owen and Barbara only ran the caravan park and their accommodation on site at two-thirds capacity to ensure safety and to give people space.
‘I can’t see a difference between the hospitality at caravan and camping sites and hospitality at B&Bs or guesthouses,’ he said.
Looking to next year, Owen expects that it will primarily be domestic bookings, rather than from overseas.
‘Normally we’d be getting bookings now from walkers intending to do the Beara Way among other things, but it’s been very quiet.’
Owen said they don’t know where they stand now with no financial back-up or help from the government and what lies ahead for 2021.
‘We can’t set an opening date for next year,’ he said.