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Summer 2021 was ‘best ever’ say local tourism businesses

September 20th, 2021 7:05 AM

By Southern Star Team

Holidaymakers enjoying Barleycove beach in July: many local businesses said this summer gave them a vital boost after a poor 2020. (Photo: David Creedon)

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BY JACKIE KEOGH AND
KIERAN O’MAHONY

MANY of West Cork’s tourism businesses have said that Summer 2021 was their ‘best yet’ despite having to operate within strict Covid guidelines.

Across the board, from boat operators to restaurant owners and hotels, the feedback ranged from ‘exceptional’ to ‘phenomenal’ to ‘unprecedented.’

Staycationers, not surprisingly, accounted for the majority of business, and it’s hoped the surge will continue until at least the end of the month.

Gail MacAllister who, together with her husband Niall and son Oisín, runs West Cork Sailing and Kayaking with the Seals in Adrigole, said this was their busiest year ever.

Aislinn O’Driscoll, whose family own and run The Townhouse O D’s in Schull, reported they, too, had ‘a phenomenal season’.

‘Lots of people who hadn’t holidayed in Schull for years realised how much they’d missed it, and how much they love it, and those who came for the first time were blown away by the scenery and the amount of things to do,’ she said.

And according to Aislinn, September is looking like it will ‘hold its own’ because a lot of the accommodation is still booked. Schull Harbour Hotel also had an extremely high occupancy – the general manager Ger Carroll confirmed it hit a 96% occupancy rate for July and August, with Bantry’s Westlodge Hotel experiencing similar high figures.

Jerome Lordan, who runs Kinsale Harbour Cruises, said it was an ‘unprecedented’ season for him, with staycationers accounting for 99% of his business.

Like many others in the sector, though, he found staff recruitment a challenge.

Aisling Drummond, sales and marketing manager at Clonakilty Park Hotel, said it was one of the ‘strongest’ summer seasons that they have had historically.

‘Demand was very strong but we did struggle in terms of staff, and obviously we weren’t operating at our full 100% capacity, due to restrictions,’ said Aisling.

In Courtmacsherry, Dave Halloran of The Lifeboat Inn said that overall it was a very good season for them.

‘Finding staff was hard, especially kitchen staff, but we were very lucky and we had a lot of brand new staff who were excellent and hardworking, and did the hours that were needed.’

 

A busy outdoor space at The Lifeboat Inn in Courtmacsherry after outdoor dining returned in June. (Photo: Martin Walsh)

 

Super busy season saw visitors flood West as Covid rules were relaxed 

For the second year in a row, the pandemic posed challenges to local businesses, but against all the odds many local tourism providers reported their busiest season ever

BY JACKIE KEOGH AND

KIERAN O’MAHONY

DESPITE all of the obstacles presented by the pandemic, many of West Cork’s tourism businesses are saying the summer of 2021 was one of the best yet.

Gail MacAllister who, together with her husband Niall and son Oisín, run West Cork Sailing and Kayaking with the Seals in Adrigole, described business this summer as ‘exceptional.’

‘The number of Irish staycationers and locals kayaking with us for the first time was fantastic,’ she said. ‘We’ve been running the kayaking with the seals element of our sailing business since 1999 and this was our busiest year ever.

‘The kayaking – which was open from 10am until 5pm seven days a week during June, July and August  – is a pay and play product, which is what more and more of our customers want,’ she said. ‘It’s strictly rental, but they have freedom to explore the harbour and the security of a safety boat on standby.’

 

Gail MacAllister said this year business was bomming at Kayaking With the Seals in Adrigole.

 

As a result of the pandemic, more people bought their own boats in a bid to spend more time outdoors, but they needed training, explained Gail. ‘We have been providing them with that as part of our “live aboard” five-day certified training courses.’

Aislinn O’Driscoll, whose family own and run The Townhouse O D’s in Schull, reported they, too, had ‘a phenomenal season.’

‘From the second or third week of January a lot of self-catering was already booked up, which was a follow-on from last year being so successful.

‘Lots of people who hadn’t holidayed in Schull for years realised how much they’d missed it, and how much they love it, and those who came for the first time were blown away by the scenery and the amount of things to do,’ she said.

‘The only downside,’ said Aislinn, ‘was the limit on space for people who wanted to dine outdoors, but on the positive side everyone – in collaboration with Cork County Council – came together to provide a really nice outdoor space that has actually improved the town’s streetscape.’

Aislinn said the Townhouse didn’t open for indoor dining until the end of August, yet it managed to hold its own compared to last year, which was its first year in business.

The bar and restaurant opened in December 2019 and when the pandemic hit, they quickly switched to provide a takeaway service.

‘We also opened a retail unit out the front,’ said Aislinn, ‘a shop selling loads of Irish and local products. Then, during the first lockdown, we built our outdoor dining area which we depended on hugely this summer.

‘We had about 55 seats for outdoor dining, which we used last year and this year, and we added more street side dining this summer.’

Aislinn said there were lots of tourists from Dublin and Cork around this year, as well as a large number of visitors from the north. ‘And it’s been lovely to hear American accents around the place again,’ she added.

According to Aislinn, September is looking like it will ‘hold its own’ because a lot of the accommodation is still booked.

Schull Harbour Hotel also had an extremely high occupancy – the general manager Ger Carroll confirmed it hit a 96% occupancy rate for July and August – and there was a real sense of everyone working together for the good of the town.

Bantry’s Westlodge Hotel also had ‘a really good year.’ Annette O’Donovan, the hotel’s general manager, said, ‘It was more or less 100% the domestic market with 95% occupancy at the peak of the season.’

She said the spacious 100-bedroom hotel and well-appointed holiday cottages were seen as ‘a safe space,’ so it attracted a lot of family reunions.

‘There have been families of three and four generations meeting here right throughout the summer. It was wonderful to see them holidaying together and enjoying a lot of outdoor activities, such as tennis, pitch and putt, football and the fairy trail, as well as the big screen family movie nights in the ballroom.

‘We are very lucky to have a dedicated staff of about 100 people, which included a lot of local students working with us during the summer,’ said Annette. ‘They carried us through. They were amazing. Many of them were second generation, their parents having worked here before.’

 

Aislinn O’Driscoll of The Townhouse O’Ds in Schull said: ‘Lots of people who hadn’t holidayed in Schull for years realised how much they’d missed it.’

 

The general manager said the use of Bantry Bay for watersports and the additional outdoor dining options in the town also helped to make Bantry even more popular as a tourism destination.

Jerome Lordan, who runs Kinsale Harbour Cruises said it was an ‘unprecedented’ season for him, despite the pandemic.

‘And that’s down to the domestic tourism market. Almost 99% of my customers during this summer season were Irish,’ said Jerome.

With the surge in business, Jerome also had to increase the number of his daily excursions.

‘Normally I do about four or five trips a day in July and August, but I was doing eight or nine a day this summer and it was absolutely mental busy. We were also conscious of social distancing so we couldn’t carry our full complement of passengers on each trip.’

Unfortunately, Jerome found himself with the same problem that many others in the tourism sector have experienced this year in relation to recruiting staff.

‘It was very difficult to hire staff and while I got staff it was still a struggle. Normally, when you’d advertise for staff, you would get dozens of applicants, but when I advertised positions, I only got one or two applying.’

Jerome took on three part-time staff to help cope with the surge in customers.

‘It was a very good summer weather-wise and I think we only missed one day in July and August. But it was exhausting too. It’s gone now from 200 a day to 22 a day, in the space of three or four days as the season winds down and the schools return.’

 

Jerome Lordan of Kinsale Harbour Cruises, had to take on extra staff.

 

Aisling Drummond sales and marketing at Clonakilty Park Hotel said it was one of the ‘strongest’ summer seasons that they have had historically.

‘Demand was very strong but we did struggle in terms of staff, and obviously we weren’t operating at our full 100% capacity due to restrictions,’ said Aisling.

‘It was a very busy summer in exceptional circumstances, with the majority of our guests from the domestic market.  But this year, we’ve met a lot of families for the first time, who hadn’t stayed with us in the past, and the hope is that we will retain some of that business,  for mid-term breaks or Easter holidays.’

From a safety point of view in relation to Covid, Aisling said the feedback from their guests was overwhelmingly positive.

‘We’re very much a family friendly hotel so it’s the base that people were really looking forward to when coming to West Cork.

‘The adventure centre and the adventure golf were flying this summer too.’

In Courtmacsherry, Dave Halloran of The Lifeboat Inn said that overall it was a good season for them, despite them chasing their tail to make up for lost time.

‘We were lucky we developed the new outdoor area and the weather was quite good, so the season was great and we got a lot of support from locals too, which is good,’ said Dave.

‘Finding staff was hard, especially kitchen staff, but we were very lucky and we had a lot of brand new staff who were excellent and hardworking and did the hours that were needed.’

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