June 20, 2021
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: Dear old Ireland is pricing itself out of the market

It may be a decent summer, after all, for the tourist industry in rural and coastal Ireland. But summer in the city is going to be pretty quiet. That’s the verdict of Fáilte Ireland, which gave a briefing last week on its projections for the season.

“It’s going to be a bit of a year of two halves,” said director of marketing, Niall Tracey. “We’re going to have a summer where large parts of the country actually do very well … but the cities are struggling and will continue to struggle.”

Mr Tracey suggested there would be good availability in the cities with the chance, perhaps, to bag a bargain.

That has not been my experience. I found it almost impossible to book accommodation for a family holiday in or around our cities – and that was three months ago when there was no certainty about what would open or when.

Even then, there were no city bargains to be bagged.

My requirements were not entirely typical but neither were they very unusual. Let me explain.

Every summer, for several years now, I have enjoyed a holiday in the sun with my family – three generations, at least eight of us, 12 if we all make it.

We look for a house with a pool and barbecue area, within walking distance of at least a couple of shops and cafés and not too far from a town. It’s a bit of a luxury, I guess, but not all that expensive when the cost is split across four family groups.

Last July we should have been in Malta but Covid had other ideas.  The very helpful proprietor agreed to rebook our stay in her beautiful villa for this year but the uncertainty around foreign travel forced us to cancel again, and we have now made a reservation for 2022.

So, in March I started looking  for an Irish substitute: a house with at least four bedrooms. Since our interests range across several age groups, I thought it might be nice to have  a city on our doorstep. Easy, I thought; weren’t the cities crying out for tourists?

Last summer, when we had to cancel Malta, we rented a nice house near the centre of Galway. It was not available this year and neither was anything else in Galway or its accessible suburbs, such as Salthill or Barna.

So I took a look at other cities. I ruled out Dublin, because most of us live in or near there, and Belfast: it’s my native city and, if familiarity hasn’t bred contempt, it has at least warned me to avoid it in the marching season.

I tried Cork city, ranging out as far as Fota and Ringaskiddy. Nothing doing.

I tried Waterford city, out as far as Tramore and Dunmore East. In October, yes. In September maybe. But in July or August, not a chance. And, remember, I began my search in March.

I drew a similar blank with Limerick and Kilkenny and a couple of larger towns, Athlone and Ennis.

I gave up the search for one big house and tried for a couple of smaller city rentals, close to each other. I also looked at the possibility of taking two or even three holiday chalets attached to a hotel.

The only city properties available were huge buildings, evidently intended as dormitories, or extremely expensive, luxury homes. And I do mean extremely expensive. Ordinary expensive would cover just about everything in Ireland.

The house we rented in Galway last year was about twice as dear as the one in Malta which had a swimming pool, sun loungers, a barbecue area, and would have supplied us with bicycles and some gym equipment.

Everything else in Galway – food, drink, whatever entertainment was open – cost far more than in Malta. All in all, I estimated that, even allowing for air fares, one week in Galway cost the same as a fortnight in sunny Malta. And this year the gap seems to have widened.

The problem is not just with self-catering holidays.  The Irish Independent did a survey of hotels and guesthouses and commented that prices  would “send shivers down a staycationer’s spine and tempt some to wait just a little longer for European travel to reopen”.

In 2020 many people booked Irish holidays for the first time in years and our tourist industry missed a great opportunity to impress this captive audience. The chance is being missed again.

The comment I hear most frequently is ,  “it would be cheaper to go to …”  Lanzarote, Alicante, Corfu, the Algarve.
And, indeed, Malta. Which is where I hope to be next year.

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