Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Valuable booking lost at Belfast's Merchant Hotel as visitors go to Dublin instead

Loyalists block roads in north Belfast as the ongoing flag dispute continues
Loyalists have been protesting against a decision to stop flying the Union flag every day outside Belfast City Hall
Loyalists converge on Belfast City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest at the removal of the Union flag earlier this week

A leading Northern Ireland businessman has told how loyalist riots have led to American tourists cancelling their stay at his luxury hotel over Christmas

The group of tourists had booked out an entire floor of suites at Belfast’s Merchant Hotel for four nights. However, after hearing about the riots they contacted the hotel to cancel their stay.

It is believed the booking could have been worth tens of thousands of pounds.

“They have now taken all their business to Dublin because of the violence,” said Bill Wolsey.

“And to rub salt into the wound, they asked us to book them into a hotel of similar standard in Dublin. We are losing business because of this.” Mr Wolsey, who also runs Ireland’s largest group of licensed premises, said that trade at the Merchant Hotel, which had been “very good” prior to the protests, dropped by 15% over the past week through cancellations.

“This is about people not feeling safe coming to Belfast. This is going out worldwide. It is doing Northern Ireland no good at all,” he said.

“I do not know who to blame or condemn. All I know is we are losing business.

“The politicians have got together lately and condemned the violence, which is the right thing to do. But in earlier days there was dreadful posturing by leaders of some particular parties trying to gain political capital out of this. That does none of us any good.”

Retailers, hoteliers, and restaurateurs across Belfast have raised serious concern over the effects of loyalist protests and related violence on their businesses.

One Belfast restaurant owner, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of attack, warned of potential job loses unless the violence is brought to an end.

He said that several groups have cancelled Christmas party bookings at his restaurant and that the fall in trade has lost him a “considerable” amount of money.

“People are worried about getting into and out of town and possibly getting caught up in the troubles.

“Christmas has been ruined for everyone. I think that jobs are going to be at risk in the new year because of this,” he added.

Chairman of the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau, Stephen Magorrian, said that unless the disturbances are brought to an end the city’s tourism prospects for 2013 will be damaged.

“It is unfortunate and disappointing that after what has been a great year for tourism in Belfast, it should end with wanton disruption and violence on our streets.

“It’s damaging to our businesses, it is damaging our reputation internationally, and it will undoubtedly damage our prospects for 2013 — a very important year — if it doesn’t stop now,” said Mr Magorrian.

He added: “Issues such as these should be resolved in debating chambers and not on the streets.

“I would call on all political parties and community leaders in Northern Ireland to do all in their power to bring an end to this violence and disruption right away.”

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