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great rate Bargain bed rates and free upgrades likely as most hotel rooms lie vacant ahead of reopening

There are no planes in the sky. There’s no business’

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Staff at the Clarence hotel in Dublin getting ready to open their doors. Photo: Mark Condren

Staff at the Clarence hotel in Dublin getting ready to open their doors. Photo: Mark Condren

Staff at the Clonard Court Hotel in Athy Kildare led by owner Mary Fennin Byrne ready to reopen for business. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Staff at the Clonard Court Hotel in Athy Kildare led by owner Mary Fennin Byrne ready to reopen for business. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Paul Gallagher , General Manager at Buswells Hotel, Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren

Paul Gallagher , General Manager at Buswells Hotel, Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren

Staff member Annette Kellaghan from Buswells Hotel Molesworth St Dublin 2 getting the hotel ready for its opening as hotels around the country reopen today. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos Dublin

Staff member Annette Kellaghan from Buswells Hotel Molesworth St Dublin 2 getting the hotel ready for its opening as hotels around the country reopen today. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos Dublin

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Staff at the Clarence hotel in Dublin getting ready to open their doors. Photo: Mark Condren

Reduced rates and free upgrades are expected as up to 90pc of hotel rooms are vacant in some counties ahead of today’s reopening.

Summer bookings have plunged below pre-pandemic levels, adding to the nervousness of many managers, owners and staff who are welcoming guests today for the first time since Christmas.

Irish Tourism Industry Confederation chairperson Ruth Andrews said even by its most optimistic modelling scenario, it could be 2026 before we can expect to see pre-pandemic levels of tourist numbers.

Dublin is worst hit, with just 10pc occupancy this month.

Peter Collins, general manager of the Academy Plaza Hotel in Dublin city centre, has decided to push out reopening until June 29 despite the Government giving the go-ahead to hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses and self-catering accommodation from today.

The hotel has been shut for ten of the last 15 months.

“It’s a combination of the low occupancy rate and costs,” he said last night.

“Keeping it closed is quite expensive, but so is keeping it open, despite government supports.

“There are no planes in the sky, the business is just not there,” he added.

“On the flip side, I’ve just arrived on a train at Heuston from Castlecomer where we’re able to reopen our second hotel, the Avalon House, and have recruited 20 staff.”

General manager at Dublin’s Buswells, Paul Gallagher, said city tourism is very low down on people’s “ tick list” .

But he is optimistic the resumption of international travel in July will help the industry turn a corner.

“The reality is we are still going to be very challenged from a business perspective,” he said. “At the moment, we are reliant predominantly on the Irish market.”

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The loss of overseas visitors is hitting hard and staycationers appear keen to escape to the coast after months living in a 5km geographical bubble.

Nationally, 25pc of hotel rooms are booked for June, 31pc in July, and 27pc in August.

In Dublin, just 11pc are booked for the rest of the summer, according to the Irish Hotels Federation.

Before the pandemic, it was up to 91pc in the capital at this time of year and 89pc in the rest of the country. Hotels in the southeast are the most popular. Occupancy there is already up to 57pc in July.

“We are delighted to be opening but are also very nervous,” said Paul Diver, general manager at the Sandhouse Hotel in Rossnowlagh in Co Donegal.

“For some reason, we are more nervous this time. I don’t know why. We don’t want to get it wrong. We don’t want another lockdown.”

He said while a few hoteliers increased prices, others were unlikely to offer below-cost rooms, a tactic used by some during the recession.

“Many will be offering additions like free upgrades and things like that,” he said. “It seems to be the more sensible way to go.”

The Wild Atlantic Way helps his business, but weddings and bus tours have not picked up. “After the last week in August, things start to get a bit scary looking,” he said.

There have been recruitment struggles, especially for chefs, but enforcing public health rules means many managers will not bring back all staff.

Another concern is that seasonal workers in their late teens or early 20s are not vaccinated yet.

Owner of the Clanard Court Hotel in Athy, Mary Fennin Byrne, said occupancy is about half what it would normally be.

But she is relieved to be out of the darkest phase of the last few months – giving her team news of layoffs.

“You still had to dig deep and hope that you’d get by as a business,” she said. On pricing, she expects reduced rates in parts of the country, especially for those booking directly from hotels. “The cost of reopening is colossal,” she said. “We are not looking for a handout from government, but are looking to have our hands held. We are not out of the woods yet.”

The manager at Cork’s Imperial Hotel, Bastien Peyraud, said everyone is delighted to be reopening.

“We are thrilled to reopen our doors to the public after what is hopefully the last period of forced closure. The initial lockdown in March 2020 dealt us a huge blow as we closed the doors of Cork’s most historic hotel for the first time in over 200 years,” he said. “It was quite a surreal moment.

“The effect on our people, the Imperial Family as we call them, has been the most difficult thing.

“Some of our team have been with the hotel for more than 40 years and they found it really tough not coming in.”

He said it is not a pretty picture for the weeks ahead.

“We’re currently at about 30pc occupancy for the summer, which is obviously well below our usual 90pc rate at this time of year, but we expect bookings to increase over the coming weeks as more people get vaccinated and as the schools break for summer.”

Cork hotelier Brian Bowler, of The Montenotte, said it has been the most challenging 16 months in industry history.

“We made the decision to face these challenges early on and ensure that when we return, we would come back better than ever,” he said.

Chief executive of the Irish Hotels Federation, Tim Fenn, said he is hopeful for an uplift.

“The domestic market was a real positive for the tourism industry last year and we expect staycations to be of massive importance again this year,” he said. “There is excellent value available across the country.”

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