We've missed you: CIE Tours returns to Ireland
After the pandemic pause, travelers find the welcome is as warm as ever.
Ireland opened its doors this summer, awakening after a long pandemic pause. Shopkeepers dusted off their tills, jaunting car drivers readied their horses, and castle guides got to their posts, ready to welcome back travelers hungry to see the wonders of the world beyond their bubbles.
And how was it for the travelers? “We had a wonderful time – everyone thoroughly enjoyed it,” said Pennsylvania travel agent and traveler Madonna Boyce, who led a group of 12 people. It was Boyce’s 19th trip to Ireland, and as she turned 80 during the trip, she says it’s likely to be her last. As for her traveling companions, “it was the first time going to Ireland for all of them – they were just amazed at everything!”
And what a greeting they got, as they were the first travelers most of the tourism industry staffers had seen in over a year and a half. “We got a warm welcome everywhere we went. Every hotel we went to, every attraction – they were so glad to have us and so glad to be open again. Everyone went out of their way to make us feel welcome.” At Blarney Castle, they were greeted by an excited young staffer who said, “you don’t know good it is it to see you walking up that path to the castle.” On a Killarney jaunting car ride, “the driver said to us, ‘we’ve sure missed you. It’s so nice to have the business again. I’ve spent enough time at home with my family,’” she laughed.
James Taguchi and his family were on their first trip to Ireland this summer – as part of the Irish Heritage tour, the first group trip that CIE Tours conducted once Ireland had opened to tourists. “We got treated especially well, and it was so much fun,” he said. And the feelings of delight were mutual. At one stop, at CIE Tours shopping partner in Killarney, Moriarty’s, the staff was so excited that “one of the people came on the bus and said we were the first people they had seen in 18 months!”
“It was a great trip,” he said. “Everything we saw – from the Cliffs of Moher, to the Ring of Kerry, to the sheepdog demonstration. It was fabulous.”
CIE Tours Chief Operations Officer Stephen Cotter, who traveled on the same tour as the Taguchis, concurred. “For the first tours back it was an extra treat to be on ‘the maiden voyage’; if you like. They had a super time. The guides were fantastic.” And the best part? The normality. “The guests all enjoyed it the exact same way as they would have beforehand. They mingled - it wasn’t any different. They were having a super time - just that feeling you’re doing something that’s normal again.”
Pandemic safety measures were in effect, but did not prove too obtrusive, James said. “You needed a vaccination card, and an ID to prove it was you.”
Stephen adds, “Some people have their proof of vaccination on a card, others on their phones – we haven’t had any problems with them so far”. Stephen noted that the guests kept their masks on in the bus and at indoor attractions, which hasn’t been an inconvenience . “You don’t notice it after a while.”
American guests need to take a Covid test at the end of their journey, due to US government requirements for inbound international arrivals. Stephen notes this hasn’t been problematic. “Our operations team setup the appointments for the return testing, and the guests pay for the return tests directly to the test provider. So far it's gone really well.”
Overall, Stephen said, the transition back to traveling been very smooth – thanks to the hard-working teams on the ground. They have had some minor adjustments in the tour itineraries, and have had to work on ensuring that the testing process has been seamless. “Things have worked out really well, and the customers have been having a good time. Thankfully, we haven’t dropped any of those balls. It’s a huge credit to all the teams that we’ve managed to keep it going so smoothly…we’ve managed to deliver something that made people really happy.”
This has left customers able to just sit back and enjoy the trip – and both James and Madonna report they had no trouble doing this. James said, “We all had a good time. It was a really good family trip. My 22-year-old son just loved Ireland - he was ready to move there.”
A special highlight for Madonna was the night her group visited Taylors Three Rock, a pub that features lively traditional entertainment. Knowing it was her 80th birthday, the staff had decided to throw a special party just for her, complete with musicians and dancers – and even a birthday cake and celebratory whiskey and wine. “I will never forget how special they made me feel,” she declared.
The trip was a tremendous capstone on Madonna’s lifelong love of Ireland. She said that at one point her group stopped at a particularly splendid area for a photo opportunity, and her group commented on how beautiful the scenery was. “I had to hold back tears as I told them that I felt like Ireland belonged to me and I was so privileged to be able to share it with them.”
Have you taken a vacation with CIE Tours, recently or in the past? Share your recollections with us on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear about your experiences!