Northern Ireland could soon have its first floating hotel after a businessman announced ambitious plans for a three-star venue on the River Bann.
Seamus Carey is seeking planning permission for a hotel with 36 cabins on a 70-metre Norwegian vessel at his Cranagh Marina Complex in Coleraine. He hopes the hotel would be up and running next summer, with the creation of 50 jobs.
Plans for a similar project two years ago were unsuccessful after Mr Carey's earlier vessel, paddle steamer MV Oliver Cromwell, sank off the Welsh coast en route to the Upper Bann.
Mr Carey filed his latest application before the Covid-19 crisis but said he is still committed to the project. However, he told the Belfast Telegraph the Executive needed to assist tourism projects like his.
"They're going to have to come along and assist people. I'm not going to invest without some common sense from the government," he said.
Mr Carey said a surge in visitor numbers and tourists to the marina presented an opportunity to add more accommodation to the cabins already on site.
He added: "The Cranagh has seen a steady increase in visitors over the last number of years and has become a destination on the north coast, offering excellent facilities for the entire family.
"Since 2016 we have won several tourism and visitor attraction awards and have been awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence every year since 2017.
"We believe the floating hotel will enhance our offering and enable visitors to stay and enjoy not only the facilities at the Cranagh but all the wonderful offerings of the north coast."
He said the marina had been enjoying record visitors to its activity centre, restaurant and cabins. Mr Carey plans to transport the barge from Norway to Northern Ireland for an eight-week refurbishment, adding a restaurant and function room as well as the 36 cabins. He also hopes to add a spa in due course.
The complex, which already has a restaurant, shut at the outset of lockdown, with its 15 staff now on furlough.
Mr Carey added: "We took the step to close the restaurant and accommodation at the start of March. The activity centre was due to open at the beginning of April, but we have postponed opening until the guidelines from Stormont permit, which we hope will be around the end of June. The restaurant will be among the last business sectors to open in line with government guidelines."
Mr Carey added: "We currently have five separate changing rooms which will be set aside exclusively for individual families. Hopefully, activities for families and small groups will be available from the end of June and will include waterskiing, wakeboarding, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing, banana boating and tube rides.
"Given the current five-step plan from Stormont, water parks in Northern Ireland will not be able to open until step four, but on current advice all other activities will be permissible from step one and two. All changing rooms and equipment will be sanitised after each use."
Opening of the restaurant would take longer as it is covered by step five of the Executive's roadmap.
Mr Carey added: "I don't think the government will want to see places where alcohol is sold opening up too soon because it's hard to maintain rational social distancing as you'd always have a couple of guys slapping each other on the back after a few pints."
He said he had taken a financial hit as a result of cancelled bookings, but added: "I'm willing and ready to do an investment if the government stands by me."