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Hospitality sector welcomes provisional date for hotels and guest houses to reopen

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Process: Janice Gault

Process: Janice Gault

PA

Process: Janice Gault

The Executive's announcement that accommodation providers can open to the public from July 20 has been described as a "step forward" for the sector.

The move to clarify a conditional date was announced by Economy Minister Diane Dodds on Monday in a bid to allow businesses to prepare.

"I believe the time is right to provide the tourist accommodation sector with clarity about opening dates," said Mrs Dodds.

"I want to build upon the positive progress in managing the spread of the virus and begin to reopen our tourism industry in a safe and managed way."

Chief executive of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation Janice Gault said: "There is more work to be done around the details of opening. We will continue to work in a collaborative manner so that the visitor economy, including the hotel sector, can return to business and help restore the Northern Ireland economy. The safety of our staff and guests will be paramount in this process.

"Having an agreed date will help us to plan, promote and give businesses the opportunity to assess their viability."

Managing director of Hastings Hotels Howard Hastings said the opening date will allow accommodation providers here to take advantage of the larger stay-at-home market.

He said: "We are aware that this season will be unlike any other. With so few flights coming to Ireland from Great Britain and overseas, there will not be the usual influx of visitors on escorted coaches.

"That said, people on the island of Ireland spend £4bn annually on overseas summer holidays, and we are delighted to have the opportunity that now exists to persuade them to try somewhere new at home. There has never been a better time. There will be no queues at visitor attractions, and the hotels that do open will in all likelihood not open all their bedrooms to comply with regulations."

He added that some 2.5m people in the Republic have never spent a night over the border.

"We will be working with Tourism Northern Ireland to persuade these people to visit for the first time, and to persuade others to return.

"The minister's statement today has unlocked that opportunity. As a result our enquiry level has already jumped.

"We thank her for her commitment to the hospitality industry, both today and for the potential the industry holds as it looks to rebuild following the Covid crisis."

Bill Wolsey, managing director of the Beannchor group, which includes the Merchant Hotel in Belfast city centre, Bullitt Belfast, The National and The Dirty Onion, welcomed the move but asked for more information on when hotel facilities could resume. He said the new date "provides the first glimmer of hope for the recovery of Northern Ireland's hospitality industry".

"There is a need for further clarification around hotel facilities; not just in enabling us and other hoteliers to provide as well-rounded a service to our guests as possible, but also to begin to shape our staffing capacity and inject a much-needed boost to the local economy by reinstating as many jobs as we can."

Sean McLaughlin, owner of the Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy agreed, adding: "This is good news to a point. It's all well and good that we can take bookings but as yet we have not seen any guidelines around how we serve guests breakfast and what exactly we are allowed to open."

Mr McLaughlin said he believed the move would boost the staycation market.

Speaking at yesterday's Executive Covid-19 update, First and Deputy First Ministers Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill stressed that the date of July 20 was "indicative" and subject to scientific guidance.

Mrs O'Neill said: "It's important to remember that this is an indicative date. It won't be business as usual. It won't go at breakneck speed and it's important that it's done in a measured and controlled way.

"Your hotel experience won't be back to what it was four months ago."

At Monday's Stormont briefing Mrs Foster said Mrs Dodds will work with the Tourism Recovery Steering Group to fine-tune detail.

"There's a chance we could get there sooner, again that would depend on scientific advice," she said.

Belfast Telegraph