August 12, 2020
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: Our dear little island lives up to its name

I have been on staycation in Galway with three generations of my family. We should have been in Malta – but sure we all have to make sacrifices in these troubled times. Anyway, I love Galway. And what, I asked my sceptical family, has Malta got that the West of Ireland can’t match?

Well, prices for one thing. We rented a house in the centre of Galway city – a nice big house and a great location. But it cost more than the house we would have rented in Malta  which was a lot bigger.

The Maltese house had a swimming pool, sun loungers, a barbecue area, en suite bathrooms and would have supplied us with bicycles and some gym equipment. The Galway house had none of those facilities.

Eating out in Galway was, I reckon, about twice as expensive as it would have been in Malta – and Malta is not a particularly cheap place.

Everything else on our staycation was similarly expensive; every type of entertainment for the children, every cup of coffee for the adults. I have just been totting up the figures and I estimate that, excluding the flights, a week in Galway worked out at much the same price as the two weeks we would have spent in Malta. Add the cost of the flights and it’s a dead heat.

So one week in a rather rainy Galway or two weeks in the Mediterranean sun? As I said, I love Galway. But not that much. Coronavirus willing, we’ll all be in Malta next year.

One thing kept down the Galway bill a little. Much of the city was shut so opportunities to spend money were limited.

Bord Fáilte, or whatever it’s called these days, has been urging everyone to holiday in dear little Ireland and save the economy. But last week the country seemed woefully unprepared for a return of tourism.

All Galway’s museums and civic centres were closed.  Cafés and coffee shops were open but many were providing only a takeaway service and few seemed to have thought of putting tables outside. Since the sort of pub where you can just stop for a drink was also closed, there were a lot of woebegone people wandering around the city with no particular place to go.

I agree with the decision to delay the full opening of pubs but I can’t see why the rule is being applied to beer gardens and pub courtyards, during daytime hours at least. All around Galway outdoor pub areas were empty while tourists rambled past, looking for somewhere to take a quick break without buying a meal.

However, these lockdown problems will end. Prices are another matter.

I have been referring to my own experience in Galway but the same issue seems to arise everywhere.

This year many people have been booking Irish holidays for the first time in years and those I have spoken to are in agreement that they will be in no rush to repeat the experience.

People who have not used a hotel for anything other than a long weekend or to attend a wedding had assumed that the price per night would be less if they stayed for a week or 10 days – made a proper holiday of it – and that there would be allowances for families. Not so.

I am hearing the same reports from B&Bs, campsites and rented accommodation and I don’t understand why this is the case.  You may feel that costs, in general, are greater in Ireland but that doesn’t seem to to bother our exporters, who remain competitive. So why are things so much more expensive in the hospitality  trade, much of which  is run on the minimum wage?

Irish tourism has been given an unexpected opportunity to open an internal market and I fear it is letting it slip – partly because of bad weather, which is nobody’s fault, and partly because of Covid restrictions, but mainly because of high prices.

The comment I have heard most frequently is ,  “it would be cheaper to go to …”  Lanzarote, Alicante, Corfu, the Algarve.
And, indeed, Malta.

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