Hospitality businesses across Northern Ireland are gearing up for the closest thing they can have to Christmas celebrations next week following the end of a two-week circuit breaker.
It comes as the Executive announced that restrictions across retail, close-contact services and parts of hospitality will be lifted next Friday.
Under the new easing of rules, hotels, cafes and restaurants will reopen - however ‘wet pubs’ will have to stay closed until further notice.
Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) CEO Janice Gault said the decision is very welcome.
“The industry looks forward to welcoming back guests over the Christmas period and hosting them in a regulated and controlled environment,” she said. “The hotel industry will reopen in a responsible manner with the health of guests and staff to the fore.”
The hotel chief said she expected all hotels to take advantage of the news but said until guidelines on how hoteliers should operate were released, it couldn’t be guaranteed that every hotel will reopen.
Ms Gault also said the sector has pumped £5m into ensuring their premises comply with guidelines.
She said that being given the opportunity to recoup some of that money, as well as some £200m borrowed through Government CBILS schemes during the pandemic through the “vital” Christmas trading period was very welcome.
Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) chief executive Janice Gault said occupancy rates had improved significantly in August (NI Hotels Federation/PA).
She added: “The majority of hotels intend to re-open on the 11th and the Federation will be working with government on communicating guidelines, explaining the measures that are required and ensuring that the public are aware of their role in helping to control the spread of the virus.
“This year will be different, but hotels are determined that those who arrive will have an excellent experience after what has been a very difficult year for everyone. Hoteliers will be encouraging guests to dine, stay and enjoy their visits.”
Ms Gault said the sector hopes to have consecutive trading weeks “well into the New Year” and says news of a viable vaccine gives hope for next year’s business.
Meanwhile the Clover group, which operates eight venues in Belfast City Centre, has confirmed that it will reopen its entire portfolio next Friday.
This includes Henry’s and the Jailhouse and Margot’s as well as the Bone Yard and the recently launched White’s Garden.
The Group which was formed in 2018, has said that all 190 staff will be coming off furlough with the cost of re-opening being in excess of £200,000.
It will operate a pre-booking system for tables to ensure customer safety.
Director, Mark Beirne, said: “Our approach to re-opening has been robust and we are have strict procedures in place which can ensure people have a great Christmas but in a safe and secure way. The city centre is the lifeblood of Belfast and we know that to breathe life back into our streets supporting our café, restaurant and bar culture that it is incumbent upon us, in the trade, to deliver re-opening in a way that protects public health. That is why we are prepared, are ready and have invested significantly for our operations to re-emerge on the 11th.”
And the McKeever Group, which is behind five NI hotels here including the Dunadry, Corr’s Corner and Dunsilly hotels said it was looking forward to getting back to work.
Bridgene McKeever, director of marketing at McKeever Hotels Group, said: “All our NI hotels will be reopening. We were delighted with the announcement after weeks of uncertainty. The teams are really looking forward to getting back to work and welcoming guests to celebrate the festive season.
“Right now we cannot be certain of the regulations but it is likely that we will offer table service and drinks with meals only.”
Adrian McNally, general manager of Titanic Hotel Belfast said they would also be reopening.
"At Titanic Hotel Belfast we have already started building the only life size Gingerbread House in a hotel in Northern Ireland and we are bursting with excitement to welcome our guests into the hotel to stay and dine from next Friday," he said.
"We have stringent precautions in place to ensure that all our visitors enjoy a safe and healthy Titanic Hotel Christmas whether they are joining us to celebrate the festive season over afternoon tea, for Christmas lunch or dinner or whether they are escaping for a night away to experience the luxury of our hotel for an evening."
One of Northern Ireland’s most popular and longest-running hotel chains, Hastings will also reopen all of its seven properties.