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Merchant Hotel is 'well-placed' to operate in post-Covid-19 era

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Beannchor managing director Bill Wolsey inside the Merchant Hotel

Beannchor managing director Bill Wolsey inside the Merchant Hotel

Beannchor managing director Bill Wolsey inside the Merchant Hotel

Belfast's most luxurious hotel The Merchant has said it is well-placed to overcome challenges posed as society emerges from the Covid-19 crisis as it reopened yesterday.

The company running the five-star Cathedral Quarter venue, which is housed inside a listed former bank building, this week reported a 5% fall in turnover to £11.9m in its latest accounts.

Despite the fall in turnover, operating profits had risen by 53% to £1.75m in the 12 months to June 2019 after cost controls were applied.

It said the opening of new hotels in Belfast in recent years had resulted in more competition, leading to the fall in turnover.

The Merchant and its sister hotel Bullitt have thrown open their doors as part of the lifting of coronavirus restrictions, along with pubs such as the Dirty Onion, The National, The Cloth Ear and its Little Wing pizza restaurants, which are all part of group company Beannchor.

The Merchant reopened complete with the results of a £750,000 investment in its Great Room restaurant and cocktail bar.

Managing director Bill Wolsey, who also founded the business, said: "We're aware that customers and guests may be curious about the experience that awaits them and, while there are measures in place that follow the scientific guidelines and industry best practice to ensure the safety of our staff and customers at all times, we have strived to minimise the impact to the overall experience at all our venues.

"For customers and guests of The Merchant, something special awaits them when they see the refurbishment - we're extremely proud of how we have evolved the look and feel while still retaining those original features that are celebrated by guests worldwide and cherished by the people of Belfast in this building of cultural significance." Gavin Carroll, general manager of the hotel, said the reopening marked the beginning of a "new era" for the venue.

"The launch of The Merchant was a game changer for Belfast city centre and we look forward to continuing to help promote the city and welcome guests back over the coming months."

According to the accounts for the Merchant Hotel, staff numbers had been steady over the year to June 2019 at 339.

The report said the majority of its staff had been placed on furlough after lockdown.

But a strategic report filed with the accounts warned of the uncertain environment the hotel faced. It said: "Even after restrictions are lifted, there is a risk of recession in NI and possibly globally, depressing demand from leisure and business customers, and a period of excess supply in the hotel markets.

"Customers may become more reticent about mixing in social settings and cut back on time spent in public places such as restaurants and hotels."

The company said it was not possible to assess the full impact of Covid-19 on revenues but added: "Demand recovery is expected to be slow as social distancing restrictions are gradually relaxed.

"While the near-term outlook is uncertain, we believe the business is well-placed to overcome these challenges."

It said the company was entering a new financial year with a good financial performance in the first eight months.

It added: "The business is backed by a valuable freehold property and we have had productive discussions with our bank, who remains wholly supportive."

Belfast Telegraph