Castlebar man Kevin Ryan has turned his love of camping into a thriving business.
He worked until very recently as a baker in the family business, the popular Upper Crust Bakery, on Main Street, Castlebar.
However when the bakery and coffee shop closed down last year, Mr Ryan decided to concentrate his efforts full-time on Ireland West Motorhomes, a camper van rental business which he started almost by accident six years ago through his family’s fondness of camping holidays.
Now the business has grown to a fleet of six motorhomes and is the longest established and biggest motorhome rental company in Connacht.
Mr Ryan says he is planning to further expand his rental fleet and diversify his services into valeting and motor home sales.
“I got into it by accident really,” he explained. “We were into camping, as in tenting, as a family, but we got too old for it and got blown off the face of Achill once too often,” he joked. “We decided to buy our own motorhome.
“A friend of mine did a website to rent the motorhome, really just as a way to pay for it, but it took off much better than I expected. The demand was there so I managed to secure finance to grow the business. It has been going from strength to strength ever since.”
Mr Ryan has two six-berth camper vans, two four-berth, and two smaller campers, ideal for couples.
He says there is a growing interest in motorhome holidays in Ireland and the development of the Wild Atlantic Way has been a huge boost to his business.
The Wild Atlantic Way is the world’s longest defined coastal touring route, spanning 2,500 kilometres along the western seaboard and taking in some of Ireland’s most spectacular and unspoilt scenery.
Although it was only launched last year, tourism promotors in communities along the entire route are reporting a growth in their business through the initiative.
Mr Ryan’s business is perfectly suited to tap into the potential of the route.
“We are about to launch our new website, called Wild Atlantic Way Motor Homes, to really concentrate on it,” said Mr Ryan.
“We have definitely seen a big boost because of the Wild Atlantic Way. Many people who are booking with us specifically mention the route and ask us for advice on where they should go and what they should see.
“As motorhome enthusiasts, we have travelled the entire route ourselves and think we have gathered enough information to deserve the title of Wild Atlantic Way motorhome rental specialists.”
Mr Ryan said the Wild Atlantic Way is the most important tourism initiative ever to hit the west of Ireland.
“I think it is going to be huge. I certainly hope it will. This is the push for tourism that the west has always needed and it looks set to be a big puller.”
Mr Ryan said it was not surprising that motorhome holidaying has been big business in America and Europe for many years now and is starting to take off in Ireland too.
“There are a lot of benefits to holidaying like this instead of other more conventional holidays,” he pointed out.
“The biggest attraction is freedom. You make your own schedule. There’s no such thing as having to be up for breakfast at nine or dinner between seven and 10. You are your own boss on a holiday in a motorhome.”
And you have the freedom to make your own, flexible, itinerary too, he added.
“If you don’t like something, you just pack up and move on,” he explained.
Holidaying in a camper van is also ideal for a family break.
“It is a simpler type of holiday,” he said. “For children, it is a huge adventure because it is something totally different. Families seem to spend more quality time together, playing boardgames and things like that, on this type of holiday.”
The costs are far from prohibitive.
A six-berth camper from Ireland West Motorhomes costs €100 a night off-peak, which works out at just €16 per head for the night, or €180 per night in the peak season, amounting to €30 per head per night.
A smaller van for a couple would cost €70 a night off-peak or €100 during the peak season.
Camper vans can be booked for a short three-night break away or for longer adventures on the road.
Mr Ryan said while 70 per cent of his customers are Europeans, he is seeing a growing number of Irish holidaymakers opting for a motorhome experience.
“I think Irish people’s attitude to Ireland and what it has to offer is changing,” he outlined.
“Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland are really making strides in promoting the beauty of this country.
“It is fabulous when you get out and look at it. You don’t even have to leave Mayo. I’ve seen parts of this county I never thought existed when camping. We go out as often as we can and we see something different every time.”
Taking a motorhome out on the road is often a good option for those who want the outdoors experience but who are not so keen on braving all of the elements of the unpredicatable Irish climate in a tent.
“If you want the great outdoors, this is the way to experience it,” said Mr Ryan.