Donegal’s restaurant, hotels and pubs were among the-worst hit sectors by the COVID-19 outbreak, with most having to cease trading entirely for months, placing a huge strain on what is one of the county’s most vital sectors.
In line with phase 3 of the government reopening roadmap, many businesses have now reopened their doors.
And while there remains major challenges ahead, Donegal’s hospitality sector is adapting and pivoting with the help of technology and innovation.
Paul Byrne, Managing Director of the Radisson Blu Hotel in Letterkenny, accepted that while the long period of closure was very testing, the various government supports on offer helped eased the challenges in reopening.
“We were delighted to receive the Donegal County Council Restart Grant. The grant scheme provided a prompt, much-needed cash boost after months of closure which was crucial to kick start the business, reemploy our workforce and implement a range of innovative measures to ensure the highest standards of health & safety throughout the hotel.
“These measures include increased air quality, express check out, cash-free methods of payment and a summer staycation offer. I would encourage all Donegal businesses to avail of the range of government supports available which can really help to alleviate the pressure in the reopening phase.”
Paul highlighted that the surge in staycations in Ireland has brought huge opportunity for the Donegal hospitality sector.
“We are seeing a sharp rise in the domestic tourism market this year which is really promising. Our occupancy rates for July and August at the Radisson are very strong with domestic tourists looking to Donegal as their destination of choice in Ireland this summer. With a stunning coastline, high quality food and accommodation, an abundance of family activities combined with competitive prices, it really isn’t difficult to see why Donegal is such a popular choice.”
Christopher Molloy, co-owner and chef of the Lemon Tree Restaurant in Letterkenny, noted that although the return to business is very challenging, it presents an opportunity to reinvent and embrace change.
“There is no question the past few months have been difficult but we are embracing it. The closure period offered us some time to take stock and rethink our operations. We decided to introduce a range of new services including a new click & collect service on our website, a new on-street street food style hatch and outdoor dining.
We also replaced the need for handheld menus with an innovative new ordering system which allows customers to access menus via a QR code from the table, minimizing contact. The demand for our outdoor dining tables has been tremendous and being able to enjoy a meal outside in the open air has become a really attractive option for customers.
“We have been overwhelmed by the positive feedback we have about these new services and we are seeing lots of new faces, which is very encouraging. With the rise of staycations and the huge support from local customers, we are in for a busy season which is great to see.”
Christopher also acknowledged that the range of government supports available has made reopening possible.
“The Donegal County Council Restart Grant Scheme enabled us to hit the ground running with new equipment and supplies, providing a much needed cash flow injection within a short space of time.”
General Manager of the Central Hotel, Donegal Town, Breda Haden, also noted that technology has been key to the Covid-19 response at the hotel.
“Here at the Central Hotel, the safety of customers and staff is paramount and technology has been vital in achieving the delicate balance between health and safety and maintaining a first rate hospitality service. “
“We have introduced a cash free online booking system, allowing customers to book and pay online, limiting the need for contact upon arrival or departure from the hotel. We also offer a touchpad service throughout all our rooms, enabling customers to make requests such as room service without the need to make contact at reception.
“Plans are also in place to develop an online booking system for our leisure club in the coming weeks so that customers can book their time slot for swimming or other activities. This system will limit the number of guests using our leisure facilities at any one time, ensuring maximum compliance with the industry restrictions.”
Garry Martin, Director of Economic Development with Donegal County Council and a member of the Destination Tourism Taskforce in Donegal, believes that “while businesses in hospitality and tourism have faced huge challenges this year, many have looked to innovative and creative solutions to allow them to continue to trade and to offer something unique to their customers and this resilience is without doubt a mark of the calibre of the businesses that we have here in Donegal.”