THE future of West Cork tourism is safe, once those involved are willing to change and evolve to meet the demands of a post-Covid world.
That was the message coming loud and clear from the industry this week, which is already planning a strategy to promote socially-distanced activities and accommodation options to ensure West Cork retains its place as one of Ireland’s top tourism destinations.
Helen Collins, chair of A Taste of West Cork food festival, is spear-heading a drive with Niall Gibbons, chief executive, Tourism Ireland, to make sure this region benefits from any surge in ‘staycations’ as foreign travel is likely to be limited for some time.
Speaking on The Southern Star’s Coronavirus weekly podcast, Ms Collins said that West Cork was well poised to cater for tourists post-pandemic.
There are plenty of activities in the region which can continue with social-distancing restrictions in place, like golf, watersports, walking routes, horse-riding and even whale and dolphin watching with adapted boats.
And West Cork’s inclusion in the Wild Atlantic Way will also be beneficial as the brand is already well recognised and includes a lot of deserted beaches, walking trails and beauty spots. Regarding eating out, Ms Collins suggested a new way of presenting the region’s high quality food offerings, as ‘thinking outside the box’ would see many restaurants offering premium takeaway food to visitors, and new outdoor eating areas.
Her optimism was echoed by Neil Grant, manager of the Celtic Ross Hotel, a former chairman of the Cork branch of the Irish Hotels Federation. He said that offering hotel guests new options, like promoting restaurants’ takeaway menus, and creating attractive socially-distanced or outdoor eating areas, will become part of the offerings.
West Cork will also benefit from a wide range of self-catering accommodation, he added, but hotels will be challenged and will need to look at reducing guest numbers, physical entrances, parking, and front-of-house staff may even need to wear PPE.
‘We are in the process of building our operating procedures because when guests come back they want to know they are safe, that this hotel is on their game … and that the West Cork hospitality is still to the fore,’ he said.
But he warned against putting all our eggs in the ‘staycation’ basket, pointing out that Ireland cannot replace 11m foreign visitors with the 4m domestic market.
‘But they [Irish] will potentially be taking three weeks’ holidays in Ireland, so there is definitely an opportunity there,’ he said.
Local TD Christopher O’Sullivan, who spoke on the issue in the Dáil last week, said he supported the call for a 0% VAT rate for the hospitality sector for 12 months minimum, and said he was also calling for sizeable grant aid for business owners in the sector.
While the Taste of West Cork festival itself will not be going ahead in its usual form this September, there will most likely be a ‘slimmed down’ and ‘bijou’ event organised later in the season, Ms Collins confirmed. ‘People in West Cork are very innovative and I have no doubt we will re-invent ourselves,’ she added.
To hear the podcast in full, search ‘Southern Star Coronavirus Podcast’ on Google or see www.southernstar.ie.