Monday, March 22, 2021

Homeward Bound - An Irish Golf Summer

There is still no confirmed date for when our golf courses will re-open but at least there’s some optimism that it will happen in the near future. Golf clubs and the hospitality businesses which thrive around them have had a torrid 12 months, while golf tour operators have been right in the firing line and have had to adapt to the world we now find ourselves in. 

Here is a 10-question Q&A with Joe O’Carroll, Director of Fairways and FunDays, outlining how the winner of Europe’s Best Golf Tour Operator 2020 (and a five-time winner of Best Ireland Inbound Operator) at the World Golf Awards has been adapting and preparing for the future. Irish golfers are the key beneficiaries.


Q1. In February 2020, did Irish golf look like it would be enjoying a bumper year with international golfers?

Joe O’Carroll (JO’C). Golf in Ireland was on the crest of a wave in terms of its appeal to the international market.  Golfers are keen to return to Ireland as soon as possible and we are confident that the Irish Golf Tourism industry will prosper when it is safe for people to travel again.  


Q2. What has happened to your bookings over the past year? 

JO’C. We are extremely fortunate to work with superb suppliers in Ireland in terms of golf courses, hotels, restaurants, coach companies and tourist attractions. From an early stage of this pandemic we decided that we would discourage visitors travelling to Ireland until it was absolutely safe to do so. We therefore liaised with clients who had 2020 tours booked and made suitable arrangements for these tours to be postponed without charge to 2021. Unfortunately, we now have to start moving these tours further back to 2022.  
In 2020, we introduced a unique Pandemic Money Back Guarantee meaning that clients could avail of a full money back refund if Covid-19 interfered with their travel plans.  
Fairways and FunDays has traditionally focused entirely on the international market.  In July 2020, our company introduced an attractive range of Ireland Golf Staycations specifically for the domestic market.  Feedback in relation to these tours has been exceptional.


Q.3 What are your causes for optimism?

JO’C. In a word “Ireland” is our cause for optimism. Fairways and FunDays is a very proud Irish company and Ireland is the only destination that we sell. We passionately believe that Ireland is the premier golfing destination in the world. There is no other that offers what we offer – great golf courses, amazing accommodation, spectacular scenery, exhilarating evening entertainment and the warmest of welcomes. The overall experience is unmatched and the appeal has so much to do with Irish people.
We know that the demand for high quality golf tours to Ireland will return when the world recovers from Covid-19 and when it is safe to travel again.  


Q4. How have you maintained relationships with your suppliers (golf clubs, hotels)?

JO’C. Our suppliers are key to our business and the past 12 months has been very difficult on every business that relies on tourism.  Our team has liaised closely with suppliers over the past year to rearrange tours and to see how we can develop stronger and mutually beneficial relationships into the future.  
Every single one of our suppliers has been outstanding to deal with during the pandemic and all have recognised that it is essential to be as flexible as possible with client reservations.  We are very fortunate in Ireland to have so many wonderful people employed in the golf and hospitality industries.  


Strandhill's startling par-4 15th

Q5. How have you redirected your efforts?

JO’C. We have used the past 12 months to continue to enhance the quality of our product.  While winning Europe’s Best Golf Tour Operator award at the World Golf Awards 2020 was a great accolade for our company, we always examine how we can make our product even better.  We have committed a considerable investment in the IT part of our business including launching an innovative App that will make client tours even more enjoyable.

In July 2020 we launched a superb range of Ireland Golf Staycation packages exclusively for the domestic market.  The feedback in relation to these packages has been excellent and these packages have helped many golf courses and hotels in Ireland who suffered greatly as a result of cancellations from international visitors.  We have just started to relaunch these Golf Staycations for the 2021 season.  


Q6. And with what success? 

JO’C. Our Staycations are perfect for all group sizes – from individuals to large society groups. The concept behind these tours is simple – to offer an unforgettable golfing getaway at an extremely attractive price.
Our two most popular tours in 2020 were our “Sensational Sligo Tour” featuring the three spectacular links courses at County Sligo, Enniscrone and Strandhill, and our “World Top 100 Tour” featuring the iconic courses of Ballybunion Old, Tralee & Waterville.  
In essence, every golf staycation that we offer is fully customised to meet the specific needs and budgets of our clients.  Attention to detail is really important to us, and as golfers our team understands what makes a golfing getaway special.  In addition to golf and hotel reservations, we include a four course meal, a Prize Pack and even a welcome drink within our staycation packages. It’s about making tours special and memorable. 
The fact that we offer a unique full money refund in the event of forced cancellations due to local or national travel restrictions offers clients great peace of mind.   


Q7. What are your plans for the domestic market at this time? 

JO’C. In early February, we began to launch our 2021 Ireland Golf Staycation tours.  We hope to have a full complement of 20 tour options released by mid-March.  These tours take in all parts of the Republic of Ireland and feature world-famous golf courses and many of our hidden gems.  
The tours range in duration from two to four nights but can all be customised to best meet specific client requirements.  
This initiative is about helping as many businesses within the golf and hospitality sectors as possible while also offering high quality golf tours to the domestic market at unbeatable prices.

Q8. Are Ireland’s golf clubs aware of and adapting to the new ‘normal’ when it comes to attracting green fees? 

JO’C. Golf clubs have experienced an extremely turbulent 12 months.  Periodic closures and implementing protocols to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission has made things very difficult. There is now light at the end of the tunnel, however, with an enormous pent-up demand for golf.  
I believe that golf courses will experience a bumper period as soon as restrictions are eased sufficiently and courses reopen.  I am certain that many people who have “retired” from golf will again take up the game we love, recognising the enormous social, health and wellbeing benefits that golf offers.  
In my opinion, golf clubs need to start promoting the “experience” that their course and club offers to help attract more visitors (and indeed to attract new members).  Clubs should showcase the social element, their golf professional, onsite dining options and the club proshop. The welcome that clubs extend to visitors counts for so much in terms of generating repeat business – and if this is not right there can be problems.  
Many great Irish golf clubs do very little to promote just how good their course is. Investing a little in a good image/video rich website and a social media presence would pay huge dividends in terms of attracting more visitors.  

Golfers enjoying late evening light last June, at Co Louth

Q9. In your experience, what is the attitude of overseas golfers to the enforced postponements/cancellations? 

JO’C. The vast majority of people realise that there are some circumstances that are beyond everyone’s control – this pandemic is certainly one of these.  
We have given a very clear message to our clients that playing great golf courses and enjoying the best overall golfing experience in the world will be possible when it is safe to travel to Ireland.  

Q10. Will this damage Irish golf as a destination in the future?
JO’C. I have absolutely no fear that this pandemic will damage Ireland as a golf destination.  Covid-19 will pass, the world will return to normal, and Ireland will again prosper as a golfing destination.  I have no doubt that when this happens, we will all have a far better appreciation of the small things in life that we take for granted – playing golf with family, spending time with loved ones, or having a pint with friends.
The future is very bright for Ireland as a golfing destination and the team at Fairways and FunDays very much looks forward to showcasing our spectacular country again to international visitors. 


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