With Northern Ireland caravan parks, campsites and self-contained tourist accommodation reopening this week on June 26 and pubs, restaurants and hotels being allowed to reopen from July 3, many local businesses in the Kesh area of Fermanagh are looking forward to welcoming tourists back.

Kerry Jennings, who owns the Mayfly bar and restaurant in Kesh with her husband Garry, says their business wouldn’t be sustainable without the tourist trade.

“The Mayfly had to close completely because of the guidelines so basically all of our staff had to be furloughed. The only thing that would have been open to us would have been take-aways and without the addition of the caravanners and all the tourists who would have came to Kesh, it wouldn’t be sustainable just to have the locals, it wouldn’t have paid,” explained Kerry.

“We started take-aways in the last week but we are just waiting now to get open on July 3 and welcoming all the tourists back again,” she added.

Noting that they are very lucky to have their regulars, who they are very grateful to as they keep their business going all year round, Kerry added: “But it’s the tourists, there are several caravan parks within the area of Kesh and without those tourists, it’s them that makes our village thrive in the summer months.”

Raymond Knox, proprietor of restaurant Tullana on the Green in Lisnarick is also getting set to reopen and is keen to welcome back tourists who stay at the nearby caravan parks: “You always get tourists from Clareview, Castle Archdale and Drumhoney, all good caravan parks in the area.”

Adrian Walmsley, who owns Mullans Bay, self-catering accommodation on Boa Island, commented that his business has been affected very badly by the lockdown but fortunately people are keen to book following the government’s easing of regulations: “We’re 95/98 per cent booked up for summer, on into September. We lost a lot of revenue during the period of lockdown, we had a lot of cancellations but thankfully we have our regulars who are happy to leave their deposits and roll it forward until lockdown was lifted again.”

“We’re very keen to get back and we’re glad to have a date to work to now. That’s created a lot more confidence in potential customers to book as well,” Adrian told this newspaper.

Calling tourism the “lifeblood of Kesh and indeed Fermanagh”, DUP Erne North Councillor Deborah Erskine commented: “I am so glad that we are now approaching a stage when businesses can prepare to open. Everything was so unknown and it was worrying for our local businesses.”

She explained that each business she had spoken to throughout the Covid-19 pandemic had highlighted the need to be open during the tourist season.

“It was a matter of whether they would survive or not. Did I worry about that – yes, as many jobs were on the line for my Council area,” said Deborah, adding: “What a lot of people forget is that when people stay in our hotels, B&Bs, Caravan parks and self-catering accommodation, those people are visiting our local businesses too. Tourists who come to Fermanagh or specifically Kesh in this instance are helping to provide jobs, for local people. We need to be ready to welcome tourists to this amazing part of Fermanagh.”

As a child Deborah lived for a period of time in Armagh but during the summer would have holidayed with her Granny Armstrong in Kesh.

“I know what this place means to those who come to stay here. It was the highlight of my summer as a child. I loved nothing better than going to the shops in the morning with Granny and then getting to head to Castle Archdale or some other ‘mystery tour’ around our beautiful scenery.

“Now I get to represent this wonderful place and it’s only but right that the same friendly welcome I always had, is on display for this year’s tourists,” shared Deborah.

“It’s important our tourism industry grows from strength to strength. With many staying at home this year, Fermanagh is really shining through as a place to come and stay. We have plenty to offer,” she told this newspaper.