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Hoteliers call on government to aid Northern Ireland tourist industry as coronavirus impact deepens

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Janice Gault, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Hotel Federation

Janice Gault, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Hotel Federation

Janice Gault, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Hotel Federation

The chief of a body representing hotel operators in Northern Ireland has called for the government to provide support to the tourism industry here as the coronavirus crisis deepens.

Northern Ireland Hotel Federation CEO Janice Gault made the plea as the industry struggles with the effects the virus is having on travel and, added to the collapse of Flybe, is navigating through an unprecedented storm.

"Hotels are being impacted with cancellations of business from overseas," she said.

"Hoteliers are dealing with this on a case-by-case basis and offering options for customers to rebook, postpone or reassess once the situation has settled.

"Domestic business is an important element of hotel trading and has been impacted to a lesser extent.

"There are currently marketing campaigns running in the Republic of Ireland and sentiment on an island-wide basis suggests that in the short term people will travel."

She continued: "Our hotels, guesthouses and guest accommodation members are responsible businesses and working to ensure that guests are welcome.

"Staff are kept informed and are getting out the message that they are open for business.

"The Flybe situation is a further unwelcome obstacle and reduces our air connectivity. This lessens our appeal in the GB market, our largest international visitor base.

"The NIHF is keeping our members appraised of The Public Health Agency guidance and will continue to do so.

"Government has a role to play in ensuring that support for the tourism sector is provided. It is critical that we, along with the entire Northern Ireland economy, are given allowances on rates and tax to help us through. Additional funds for promotion and campaigns are imperative once the virus recedes and we return to normal market conditions."

Ian McMichael, business relationship manager with leading travel agent Oasis Travel, said it continues to be a very testing time, with many people expected to holiday at home rather than travel abroad.

"We had the collapse of Thomas Cook in November, then Flybe and coronavirus," he said.

"The confidence of people in the travel industry has stalled. New business has been falling.

"At the minute all the news is focused on the spread of the virus, but underneath all that there's the economic impact.

"We're all keeping our fingers crossed the spread can be slowed and eventually stopped."

He added: "We trust that, through time, people will travel again and that common sense will prevail.

"We have to remain hopeful that this is a short-term thing, but there are still places to go if people want to get away."

Meanwhile, Hospitality Ulster has established an Industry Response Group to monitor and support the sector in light of the ongoing impact.

Brian Murphy, chair of the group, yesterday said: "We are bringing forward a range of measures that could be implemented straight away to ensure that the sector and the economy can weather this current storm.

"We want to preserve and ensure the ongoing livelihoods of everyone in the hospitality sector.

Belfast Telegraph