During the course of the lockdown, people have taken to creative measures to satisfy their wanderlust. Airbnb is offering online experiences. Lists of the best virtual tours such as The Great Wall of China or the Sistine Chapel are being widely shared online. Some people are even breaking out VR gear to immerse themselves in virtual experiences of natural wonders such as Machu Picchu. However, while these technological feats have helped some people to explore from home, for most people they are no replacement for the real deal. For over three months now Irish people have stayed home to keep the Coronavirus at bay. This has been no small feat. For many of us, lockdown has been a marathon of learning to adapt to new ways of living. We’ve been cooking at home more than ever, spending more time with the members of our households than we ever thought possible, many among us also dealing with the extra stress of cooped up kids. It has, to say the least, been a mentally taxing period of time. Not only are many people craving a well-deserved break, but the freedom to roam has also never felt more precious. And now as the country enters Phase 3 in the government’s reopening plan, the prospect of an Irish getaway is finally on the horizon.
This week, Fáilte Ireland launched a €2.5 million marketing campaign, under the apt tagline ‘Ireland, make a break for it,’ to encourage domestic holidays. According to its recent consumer research, Irish people are now beginning to move from the ‘dreaming’ to the ‘considering’ phase when it comes to booking travel. More than 70% of people surveyed said they would be interested in an Irish holiday and 57% say they intend to. Less rigorous metrics suggest there is even more demand. Google trends indicates a huge uptick in searches for the word ‘staycation’ in Ireland since the start of June. An online poll by Thejournal.ie reveals that nearly 65% of their readers are planning to ‘take a break somewhere in Ireland this summer.’ Irish campsite owners are also reporting record bookings for the season. Whether its travel influencers on social media, or publications compiling lists of Ireland’s best staycation destinations, it feels as if the country is suddenly buzzing about the idea. As Fáilte Ireland’s head of marketing describes the vision for the campaign, ‘Ireland has never felt bigger. Going to Bantry now is like going to Bali.” Airbnb Ireland, whose website now broadcasts the line, ‘You don’t need to go far to find what matters’ and displays a new ‘nearby getaways’ feature is clearly also leaning into this trend. According to its research, more travelers than usual are filtering their searches to ‘entire homes and apartments’ and traveling in larger groups. This suggests that people are still somewhat wary of shared spaces and that they are looking for joyful opportunities to reunite with friends and family over the summer.
There will, of course, be challenges for hotels and other leisure destinations in making people feel at ease. However, as so many people have already had to cancel celebrations or holidays abroad when the pandemic first began, there is an undeniably uplifting energy to people now intent on salvaging the summer. The Irish tourism sector, which employs over a million people, may have a long road of recovery before them. However as Irish people set out to explore the hidden gems of Ireland in ways they may never have, this is also an opportunity for us to better appreciate what our country has to offer.