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Coronavirus: Hotel tells of 100 bed nights cancelled as NI faces £1m slump in tourism revenue

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Economy Minister Diane Dodds

Economy Minister Diane Dodds

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Economy Minister Diane Dodds

The tourism industry in Northern Ireland is set to take a £1m hit in the first quarter of this year as it feels the effect of the coronavirus, an industry body has said.

The Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance (NITA) said that the affect had been "minimal" so far but it was "hard to say" what it could look like in the next month if the virus continues to impact travel.

It estimates that the hotel cancellations represented around 1% of total bookings and these had mainly come from the Asian market which makes up around 2% of the tourism industry here.

The Marine Hotel in Ballycastle said it had cancellations of more 100 bed nights and over £5,000 of lunch business, which works out at around £13,500 in potential earnings lost so far.

It said the cancellations had come from accommodation group bookings from China and Italy as well as 'lunch stop' bookings for lunches for day trips along the coast.

Hastings Hotels confirmed it was also experiencing a loss in business, particularly from the Asian market.

Traditionally January to March are the quietest in the tourism calendar. We are now seeing cancellations well into the summer season which will impact significantly on cash flow and reserves NITA chief executive Dr Joanne Stuart

NITA called for Economy Minister Diane Dodds to support action to "protect the summer holiday season for the local £1bn tourism industry", as it announced a Coronavirus Summit for its members on Tuesday.

Dr Joanne Stuart, NITA chief executive, said that the majority of businesses in tourism are SMEs and will not have the financial reserves to see them through this year. "It is also imperative we develop initiatives to support tourism organisations financially," she added.

"Traditionally January to March are the quietest in the tourism calendar. We are now seeing cancellations well into the summer season which will impact significantly on cash flow and reserves.

"Failte Ireland are currently investing significantly more than Tourism NI and are running a promotional campaign for 40 weeks compared to our 12 weeks. We need to increase our marketing effort in GB and Ireland which will require additional investment to raise awareness of the great experience visitors from GB can have in Northern Ireland, right on their doorstep.

"We are confident that once the coronavirus recedes, tourism will bounce back, as it did following the SARS outbreak in 2002/2003, but it is imperative that Government puts plans and initiatives in place to provide support for our tourism businesses during this difficult time."

Hastings Hotels said it had increased marketing efforts within the local, UK and Irish markets to "do our best to counteract" the decrease in bookings from further afield.

Colum McLornan, co-owner of the Marine Hotel, said that the Executive should look to support the industry in "what's going to be a very difficult summer".

He said: "Increasing overseas marketing spend at the moment is a waste of spend as no one is booking. A temporary reduction in VAT could help local tourism business in attracting the UK and Ireland market.

"As more UK/Irish people decide to stay at home we 'hope' we see a increase in business from these markets to make up for some of the losses from our international clientele."

Mr McLornan is also managing director of Friendship Travel, which he said is "experiencing cancellations for travel in the coming weeks and new bookings have dried up completely".

Meanwhile, Oasis Travel said that business had slowed, but a lot of people were changing their holidays rather than cancelling them.

"People have been changing holidays until later in the year to see how it develops," said Brendan Mallon, retail development manager at Oasis Travel.

"A majority of suppliers have changed the rules so they are allowing customers to change travel plans without the amendment fees they would usually charge.

"Plenty of people still travelling but Italy been hit fairly hard as far as cancellations go."

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