by Richard Buckley, Editor, Business Eye

A sunny summer is forecast for Northern Ireland’s tourist hot spots as new Barclays research reveals that many of us are planning ‘staycations’ in 2021. The news come as Barclays encourages people to get to ‘Know Your Nation’ and explore their country, with the bank finding that thousands of people are making plans to holiday domestically for the rest of 2021.


As Northern Ireland’s accommodation and indoor hospitality sector prepares to reopen on 24th May, the total spend on domestic holidays here this year is anticipated to reach £340 million2.
The pandemic has encouraged people to support their local economy, and half of holidaymakers (48 per cent) are planning trips that will allow them to explore areas with lots of local, independent businesses. Restaurants are also central to people’s holiday hopes, with access to a top dining spot considered to be ‘really important’ of holiday makers (54 per cent).
Barclays is forecasting a summer of ‘petcations’, with 5.8 million dog owners and 1.4 million cat owners organising a trip away with their furry friends.
Young people are particularly keen to holiday with their pets, with three in five (58 per cent) of staycationing pet owners aged 18-34 planning to bring their animals with them – compared with just under half (47 per cent) of those 35 and older. Family holidays are also set for a resurgence with three in five people (58 per cent) expecting their appeal to surge, after a year of spending time away from their loved ones.
The impact of the pandemic is also shown in people’s holiday preferences. Over half of 18–34-year-olds (55 per cent) are looking for a luxury break as an antidote to the stress of lockdown life, compared to just one quarter of those over 55 (26 per cent). That said, 45 per cent of 18–34-year-olds are looking to try sea kayaking or surfing this summer, suggesting appetite for activities remains high after weeks and months spent indoors.
On average, people have visited more places abroad than in the UK, meaning many of the nation’s star attractions remain undiscovered prompting Barclays to launch its ‘Know Your Nation’ initiative to promote the tourism sector and small businesses.
Hannah Bernard, Head of Business Banking at Barclays, said: “We’ve been supporting thousands of hospitality and tourism businesses throughout the pandemic, signposting them to grants, helping them with marketing their services even when the shutters have been down, and providing millions of pounds worth of funds through the Government lending schemes.
“We’ve seen many small businesses adapting their premises to get ready to meet the needs of holidaymakers this summer. The investments that they have made for us all to enjoy a holiday and a meal out will hopefully be rewarded as people support the nation’s hotels, restaurants and shops, providing local economies with a welcome boost.”
One such business in Larne, County Antrim is The Cow Byre a self-catering bunkhouse accommodation for up to 12 guests. It is five miles outside the port of Larne, gateway to the stunning Causeway Coastal Route nestled between the villages of Ballygally and Cairncastle, a backdrop for TV and film and in particular Game of Thrones.
The business is owned by Jacqueline and Seamus Mulvenna. It is single-story property with anti-slip flooring, an emergency nurse-call system, a wet room, wheelchair access and railings to fulfil the needs of all abilities. There is a secure off road parking area and an enclosed outdoor entertainment area.
Jacqueline said: “Our role as owners is to promote and grow our business while providing the best customer experience we can. We are currently the only two employees and set our standards very high and we hope to expand our workforce in the not too distance future.
“As a new diversification project, on a working farm, we were excited to have the business operational from Spring 2020. Unfortunately, lockdown began which brought business to a standstill. Thankfully, the summer brought ‘staycations’ which gave us an opportunity to open our doors to new guests.
“Undoubtedly, this was an invaluable experience as it gave us a brief insight into the running of our new business. In anticipation of the summer boom, we believe that additional casual staff will be required to help out during what is hoped to be a busy period. Furthermore, this will ensure that the accommodation can be fully disinfected during this pandemic to ensure the safety and comfort of our guests”.
The business relied on the financial support it received from Barclays and a grant secured through the rural development programme to completely convert an old cow byre to accommodation which has an exterior which conforms well to the farm. It also allowed the couple to completely transform the interior to accommodate a range of guests.
Seamus and Jacqueline have also taken measures to ensure it is Covid-secure. Seamus said: “COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions are strictly adhered to in our business. Social distancing is and will be maintained with all guests. Between guests, the Cow Byre is meticulously cleaned and disinfected to ensure the safety of guests. We believe that many guests will hold their health and safety in high priority when booking accommodation during this global pandemic”.
Seamus and Jacqueline have received a few bookings and enquiries for this summer but feel that many people have delayed booking due to the current uncertain climate and are awaiting more definite advice from government. This summer, their guests will be mainly families or guests within support bubbles due to COVID-19. As a new venture, they hope to attract more guests, increase their experience in the tourism industry and build on their strong foundation of reviews.
One of the trends the business has noticed is holiday makers wanting to bring their pets and, for the most part, these guests have been granted permission to have pets at the accommodation. The business has also received very encouraging feedback from the Mae Murray Foundation which highlighted how the facilities accommodate all abilities which was an important goal for them.
The Cow Byre is situated at the gateway to the Antrim Coast and Glens, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which is graced with some of the most picturesque views in the world so there is plenty to see and do in the immediate area.
Carnfunnock Country Park is a must visit attraction for young families. It is home to a play park, outdoor activity centre, mini golf, a 9-hole pitch and putt, a cafe and much more to keep the whole family amused. Ballygally beach is within walking distance and is a blue flag beach. Game of Thrones enthusiasts will be thrilled as the Cow Byre is located within 2 miles of one of the film sets. Antrim Castle gardens in Glenarm is also a treat for the senses. The historic Gobbins path is 14 miles away and the Giants Causeway is 55 miles away with many villages with outstanding cafes, bars and eateries along the way.
The Cow Byre has this advice for other businesses preparing to get ready for this summer.
Seamus said: “We have learned a lot through asking other businesses in the tourism sector for advice. Essentially, learn from others. Also, preparation and organisation is vital. Good communication with guests is also extremely important in building a good rapport with them and improving their experience.”

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Jacqueline and Seamus Mulvenna

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