Staff shortages in the hospitality sector in the Burren could hamper Autumn bookings, following one of the busiest summers in the region in recent years in terms of Irish visitors.
Hotels and self-catering accommodation providers have reported bookings are up on last year, due to a combination of recent fine weather and the desire to holiday at home due to coronavirus restrictions, abroad. Despite Ireland’s vaccine roll out success many people are still putting off taking international holidays until next year.
But an exodus of staff from the sector is proving to be a major hurdle for many businesses in the Burren region.
Jarlath O’Dwyer, CEO of the Burren Ecotourism Network said: “The challenge at the moment is capacity brought about by the lack of hospitality staff, which is now an industry wide problem in Ireland.”
“This has affected accommodation and food services in equal measure. We are hoping that as many member businesses as possible will remain open well into October, but we are concerned about the exodus of staff from the sector,” he added.
One of the businesses affected by staff shortages is Gregans Castle Hotel in Ballyvaughan.
Simon Haden, owner of Gregans Castle Hotel in Ballyvaughan said “We are extremely busy up to the end of October. However we have had to close 10 days in September and 5 in October as we do not have enough staff. This involved cancelling a lot of business we already had. So if we had opened everyday then we would have expected 85-90% occupancy for September.”
“Staycations are still very strong. Very few are travelling abroad even with flights partly resuming. We have some Irish guests who stayed in June, July or August have rebooked for Sept or Oct. It’s great seeing Irish guests discovering the Burren or rediscovering it! All feedback is good.”
Anthony Moloney of Doolin Inn, a country house and restaurant in the heart of Doolin village said that travel restrictions and staff shortages are seriously affecting his bookings.
“Autumn is up in the air. It was going really well, then the USA started cancelling over the last 3 weeks and although we are still keeping pace with 2019, and replacing the USA business with domestic, it is going to be hard to see where we will be.
“But the big white elephant in the kitchen is staffing, the shortage is unreal, and even if you can get someone, you have the double whammy of staff accommodation or affordable rental accommodation which is non-existent. So the season may not matter if you can’t open fully. Lots of places including ourselves curtailed services this year due to labour shortage.”
According to Sharon Malone, Sales and Marketing Manager at the Falls hotel & Spa in Ennistymon, the majority of the bookings are domestic, with some GB and NI visitors, with a handful of European guests.
She said: “Obviously, last summer was just so busy with domestic, as everyone was just so happy to be able to leave their homes! It was one of our best July & August. We weren’t sure what this year would bring, particularly when the July 18 date was given for allowing international travel.
“It turned out to be busier than last year. Occupancy is up. We have so many that made their first trip last year to the area and have returned again. It’s great to see. They seem to be doing different things this year, they ask about the not so well known attractions and activities, perhaps having done the others last year.”
Unique agricultural experiences such as staying on a farm have also proven to be very popular this summer.
Eva Hegarty of Burren Glamping, a small holding with a converted horse trailer in Kilfenora said: “We have been fully booked every single night this summer. All Irish families and they have really enjoyed their time in Clare. They think there are so many things to do and good places to eat. They also enjoyed the interaction with our farm animals.”
The Burren region continues to be a huge draw for outdoor enthusiasts throughout the year with hiking, cycling, golfing, surfing, swimming and climbing amongst some of the many activities available.
The region has also been in the spotlight in the past year, featuring on many national TV shows such as RTE’s ‘Burren: Heart of Stone’, ‘Smother’ and TG4’s ‘An Bhorinn’ which have all contributed to more people learning more about the area.