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Tourists at a crowded Spanish Point beach this summer.

Busy tourist season in Clare but ‘labour crisis’ is biting

Clare hospitality industry reaps staycation dividend as Irish tourists spend more money, writes Owen Ryan

WITH schools back and the evenings shortening, the peak 2021 tourist season has ended in Clare.

While international visitors were absent again, the fact Irish people couldn’t easily travel meant that west and north Clare got a large number of ‘staycationers’ which allowed local businesses to enjoy a very busy summer.

Kilkee-based county councillor Cillian Murphy said that the area has been very busy since reopening from lockdown.

“It has been unusual in that there was a short run-in, then craziness and a short run out. In a normal year you’d start in April, it’d get busier incrementally, and then you have the mad summer before winding down in September and October.

“This year there was no run in, the doors opened on July 26 and it was championship football! I know from being in business myself and talking to a lot of my friends still in business, that they found it the hardest thing to cope with. Normally you get a bit of a run-in, you pick up your match fitness as you’re going along!”

He said that the weather in late August had given an unexpected late boost, but finding staff had been a major challenge for many businesses.

“The real cream was the final week of August, with the good weather. It’s a week that traditionally is quiet, schools are opening, books have to be got, uniforms bought, but the fact that the weather was so good meant they were flat out.

“I think it came to a very sharp finish and a lot of that is down to lack of staff. You have got your core staff, but your casual seasonal staff are all back to college or school.”
Councillor Murphy said a number of businesses are now closed, which would normally continue in September, but would often be carried by international visitors who are not coming this year.

However, in general he said it had been a good season. “Everybody was flat out and it would have been extremely busy. Most people really took advantage of the outdoor and the weather played ball generally.”

Ballyvaughan hotelier David Quinn said that it has been far more difficult to get staff, which has presented huge challenges.

“It was the cruellest, cruellest start to a season we’ve ever had. We’re kind of geared to July and I never thought the labour crisis – it is a crisis – would be as bad as it was.

“The only saving grace is that we were able to get people from Eastern Europe who had previously worked in the UK and found it more difficult to go back there because of Brexit, visa requirements and all that.”

He said that Irish visitors are generally the best ones to get. “The Irish are the best spenders by far. A hotel full of Irish people is good, they’re not booking at operator rates, they book at best available rates and they spend more.”

All in all it was a good summer, even if it was challenging.

“There’s no doubt about it, no doubt about it. But it could be a lot better. We’re not unique, every business in Ballyvaughan has had to curtail their offering to some extent and that’s because of labour shortages.

“It even goes down to our suppliers, our supplier of linen is not able to supply us. I had to take two trips down to Cork to collect.. They have a shortage of drivers, a shortage of people to work in the factory and basically peripheral areas like ourselves have been cut off the route.

“We’ve got other smaller operators to tide us over, but even for them, they’re not able to deal with our volume. If you talk to anyone in this industry, it goes right throughout the supply chain.”

He feels the €350 pandemic unemployment payment reduced the incentive to work for many people, especially younger people, while some people temporarily laid off left hospitality entirely, taking up new jobs with more benevolent hours.

In general he feels the last 18 months have heralded a change in employment, across various sectors.

“The pandemic has only sped up what was coming down the tracks anyway, a change of work practices across every industry was coming down the line anyway, it’s only being sped up, hospitality isn’t unique in that regard.

“The likes of a four-day week will become a reality for us, in fact that’s what we will be implementing. It won’t be four days 12 months of the year, it’ll be five longer days for six months of the year and three longer days for the other six months. You just have to get smarter about it basically.”

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