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Coronavirus: Hotel and hospitality industry may lose out on £550m of tourist money

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Titanic Belfast is a key tourism destination in Northern Ireland

Titanic Belfast is a key tourism destination in Northern Ireland

Titanic Belfast is a key tourism destination in Northern Ireland

A spend of more than £550m by tourists in Northern Ireland is at risk this year as a result of coronavirus, it has emerged.

Tourism industry experts have said they believe that the second and third quarter of 2020 will be hit hard as a result of the social distancing measures being put in place to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

According to official figures from 2018, the tourism spend in Northern Ireland in the second quarter of the year­ - April, May and June - was £230m, while the tourism spend in the third quarter was £314m.

Joanne Stuart, CEO of the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance, said it is impossible to predict the full extent of the damage that is being done to the economy in Northern Ireland as a result of the virus.

However, she said tourism will play a key role in the recovering of the economy and stressed it is vitally important that Stormont does everything in its power to ensure the future of the sector.

"At the moment, we are looking at a variety of different ways in which staff can be redeployed into different roles," she said.

"We need innovative and forward-thinking ideas to ensure there is as little damage to the tourism, hospitality and hotel industry as possible.

"As far as quarter two is concerned, that is done, that is gone, but when the social distancing measures are lifted and things start going back to normal, tourism will be a really important part of the recovery.

"We might not have many people coming in to Northern Ireland for a while, but there will be opportunities for domestic tourism, you will have people looking to book a night away in Belfast, or a short trip away for the weekend.

"That's why it's so important to keep the industry going.

"When things do start to get better, you can't just open everything back up, that is going to take time.

"Look at the likes of the museums and Titanic Belfast, they aren't going to open up overnight, so we need plans in place, we need to get cash into the industry now so that jobs can be protected, so wages can be paid.

"The focus should be on trying to deal with the immediacy of the economic impact, we need loans so staff can be paid so that it can be all hands to the pump to try and do our best to save the summer season.

"It's important to remember that we will get through this and when that happens, we need to be looking about getting back out there and promoting that Northern Ireland is open for business to the rest of the world."

According to figures from 2018, which were likely to be replicated, there were almost 3m overnight trips in Northern Ireland in quarter two and three.

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