Kilkenny embracing 'social bubbles' as local company sees hot tub demand soar

'They allow people to socialise in comfort and within their household bubbles, and do something a bit different'

Kilkenny People


Kilkenny People



Airmax offers inflatable entertainment items including hot tubs, igloos, slides and obstacle courses

A local company has been helping people create and enjoy ‘social bubbles’ of a different variety, having seen a significant spike in demand throughout the recent lockdowns.

Airmax Inflatables Ltd, based in Ballyhale, hires out inflatable leisure units. Prior to Covid, many people would have known them through availing of bouncy castles, inflatable obstacle courses and slides for events and parties.

However, in recent months, it is inflatable hot tubs for hire that have been the big ticket item. Demand for the hot tubs has been up around 80% compared to pre-Covid times. The traditional season of April-September is gone: while January-March would usually be very quiet months for hot tub rental, now there is year-round interest, and the recent spell of good weather helped.

Airmax managing director James Oakey says there has been a brisk trade and plenty of enquiries. “Our hot tub (business) has been phenomenally busy,” he confirmed.

“They allow people to socialise in comfort and within their household bubbles, and do something a bit different.”
Airmax have the option of inflatable ‘igloo’ covers or a pop-up gazebo to ensure privacy (as well as a measure against the vicissitudes of the Irish weather). Each hot tub seats four people, and can be kept for a number of days at a time.

“We are getting fantastic feedback,” said James. “People are even coming back looking to buy them.”

James Oakey, Airmax Ltd

Readers may well have spotted some of Airmax’s wares on a recent edition of Claire Byrne Live on RTÉ. There was quite a reaction when Professor Luke O’Neill and comedian Bernard O’Shea appeared on the show to speak to Claire inside their own personal ‘zorb’ bubbles. The zorb bubbles were also brought into use also during a special Flaming Lips concert performance, safely allowing attendees to socially distance.

Pre-Covid, around 80 to 90% of Airmax’s business would have been corporate, with community and field day events also proving popular. But with no dates yet known for when these types of bookings can resume, James has adapted to what can be done.

When things open up a bit more, the inflatable pub/bars and marquees may come back into vogue. In the meantime, the company is also seeing plenty of interest in its items to entertain children — bouncy castles, and obstacles courses .
In some cases, people are spending more on activities and outdoor hire than in previous years. With lockdowns now part of life for over a year, young children are facing another birthday perhaps missing a sense of celebration and fun for the occasion. James is hoping to be part of the solution for parents hoping to provide something.

“It’s upsetting for them, it’s upsetting for parents,” he said. “They are seeing what (the restrictions) are doing to kids, and hopefully we are an outlet for that.

“I would say what we are finding is customers are booking products and saying ‘the kids have nothing to do and they’re stuck on their phones’. They ask if we are open and we explain it’s only in strict adherence to restrictions, and that it is for family use and within social bubbles.”

James firmly believes there is a mental health benefit being catered for also in these challenging times.

“There are a lot of kids spending too much time on devices and people are just delighted to be able to get these in and given them something different,” he said.

“If someone books we can drop it to them on Thursday and leave it, and come back to pick it up on Monday, and we’ll only charge the single day hire. We know some people are struggling.”

As with many industries, and particularly in the outdoor/leisure sector, insurance has increasingly become an issue. James is concerned that this has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“There is a shadow economy there,” he notes. “We have a serious problem here in the South-East, and it is a real concern for our sector. I understand other operators are struggling to come up with the premium, the costs have gone through the roof.”
Airmax meanwhile is fully insured with full public liability and employers’ liability.