When Level 3 kicked in, Dublin’s hotels were hit fast and hard.
Restaurant fridges were full, staff rostered for the weekend. Phones had been ringing since the rumours started, but when An Taoiseach confirmed the lockdown that Friday afternoon, cancellations really started flooding in.
“We saw 50pc of what we had on the books for the weekend cancelling straight away,” says David O’Connell of the Tifco Hotel Group, whose Dublin hotels include Clontarf Castle, the Hard Rock and two Crowne Plazas.
“The business we had on the books has fallen off a cliff.”
In Buswells on Molesworth Street the following week, Paul Gallagher tweeted a photo of himself in chef’s whites in the kitchen.
He had had to let 54 staff go, the General Manager explained, “so we are running a slimmed-down, loss-making hotel with just six great staff”.
Dublin had already been suffering. Through summer, according to the Irish Hotels Federation, room occupancy rates in the city averaged just 20pc – leaving eight in ten hotel bedrooms empty in peak season.
Now, it’s even worse. Forward bookings for October and November show just just over one in ten bedrooms occupied.
“Level 3 restrictions are not viable for this industry,” says Anne McKiernan, General Manager of Brooks Hotel, an urbane four-star set a short walk from Grafton Street and Stephen’s Green.
Like hundreds of hotels all over Ireland, hers had put huge cost and effort into creating controlled environments during the pandemic. In late August and September, she was even starting to see “green shoots”.
Overnight, those shoots were mown down.
“I think we have to find some a way to live with this virus in order for the economy to function and for staff in our sector to retain their job and for hotels to stay open,” McKiernan now says.
Bookings by Dubliners forced to cancel trips elsewhere have provided some respite however, and hotels have pivoted to try and drum up business from locals on lockdown in the city and county.
“People who have had to cancel travel plans to visit other counties are booking in with us to celebrate special occasions,” notes Yvonne Donohue, Director of Sales & Marketing at The Shelbourne.
The five-star has seen an increase in local bookings, particularly over weekends, she says, and has also opened its outdoor terrace to non-residents – just 15 of whom can be seated at a time.
Similar creativity is on show elsewhere. The Liberties’ Hyatt Centric, for example, is offering special student rates of €70 per room, and has created an outdoor dining experience in its courtyard garden.
“It has already proven a big hit with locals in the area and is providing an invaluable revenue stream for the hotel,” says Garry Walsh of the hotel’s operators, the Hodson Bay Group.
Some Dubs may not be aware that hotel restaurants can operate as normal for residents, Tifco’s David O’Connell points out – unlike standalone eateries, which are limited to outdoor dining and takeaways under Level 3.
“We’ve posted this on all of our social media sites. For hotel residents, its service as normal… that’s one of the misconceptions out there.”
Tifco has rolled out ‘Dublin for Dubliners’ packages for Clontarf Castle and its Hard Rock Hotel. Off Baggot Street, the Dylan has ordered more terrace heaters. On Golden Lane, the Radisson Blu Royal has started a takeaway food and drink menu from the front of its Dyflin bar.
“There are 1.3 million people living in Dublin,” O’Connell says. Now the challenge is to get them to swap cancelled trips for last-minute city breaks, or simply to explore what’s on their doorstep.
But a modest spike in local bookings can’t disguise the overall trend.
“It’s going to be really difficult,” he says.
Top 10 ‘Dubcations’ for lockdown
€60pp: A ‘Dubcation Special’ at the Hyatt Centric
Among the offers at this Liberties four-star (read our Hyatt Centric Dublin review here) are a “Dubcation Special” bundling B&B with a two-course meal for two people from €120 until October 10. hyatt.com
€74pp: Dublin Date Night at the Clayton
The Clayton Hotel Burlington Road has a special ‘Date Night’ offer from €148 for two, including B&B, a two-course meal, free parking and late checkout until 2pm. Sister hotel, the Clayton Charlemont, has a similar offer from €178. claytonhotels.com
€80pp: Dublin for Dubliners at Clontarf Castle
Dubliners looking for a night away close to home are the target of this package, which includes B&B for two, a box of chocolates and a three-course meal from €160. clontarfcastle.ie
€85: A Working Staycation at Hotel 7
Gardiner Row’s Hotel 7 recently launched a Working Staycation offer, where you can book a room from 8am in the morning to 5pm the next day from just €85. “We’ve seen a good pick-up from the Dublin market where people are looking for a break from their house so they can work from their room for two days and enjoy dinner out in town,” says Shauna Gillespie of Maldron Hotels. “A change of scenery really!” hotel7dublin.com
€110pp: Movie night in Brooks
Brooks Hotel has an an overnight stay in a Classic Room, a cocktail with a two-course meal in Francesca’s Restaurant, a private cinema experience, cooked to order breakfast and a late check out up until 2pm from €220. Due to Level 3 restrictions, the cinema can only be booked by members of one household. brookshotel.ie
€145pp: A Five-Star Dubcation
The InterContinental Dublin has B&B with dinner at the newly refurbished Seasons Restaurant, a handcrafted cocktail in the Whiskey Bar or Lobby Lounge, free parking and access to the Wellness Area from €145pp. intercontinentaldublin.ie
€150pp: A night at the Dean
The Dean’s one-night weekend package has B&B with a Super Room stay, and add-ons including a welcome drink, three-course dinner in Sophie’s Rooftop Restaurant, a Stella Home Cinema Pack and 30pc off a ‘Welcome Back’ ticket to the Guinness Storehouse (valid until 30th November). It costs €150pp. deandublin.ie
€162.50pp: Stay at The Westbury
The Westbury’s ‘Make a Night of It’ package includes B&B with dinner for two in Balfe’s, its New York-style eatery with spacious outdoor terrace, from €325 for two sharing. doylecollection.com
€175pp: A Day in Dublin at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel
Guests are invited to be a “tourist in our own city” at the Radisson Blu Royal on Golden Lane, with a €175pp package including B&B, free parking, dinner at The Chancery Grill and a bespoke CODAGE Paris facial at its new Velvære medi-spa. radissonblu.ie/royalhotel-dublin
€192.50pp: A mini-break at the Dylan
The five-star Dylan has a two-night mini-break from €385 for two people. The offer includes a complimentary breakfast, and represents a 10pc saving on its best available rate. dylan.ie
NB: All prices subject to availability and change. Make sure to check Covid-19 safety guidelines and cancellation policies before booking.