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Lockdown easing brings cheer to hospitality sector but 'clearer guidance needed'

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Janice Gault of the NI Hotels Federation

Janice Gault of the NI Hotels Federation

PA

Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster

Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster

Janice Gault of the NI Hotels Federation

Northern Ireland's hospitality sector has welcomed news that pubs and restaurants can reopen on July 3.

But some industry chiefs warn that a two-metre social distancing rule would not make resuming business possible for many.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds said yesterday that restaurants, cafes and coffee shops as well as public houses and bars will be permitted to open on the indicative date of July 3 for the purposes of selling food and alcohol on a table service basis.

Venues that sell alcohol only will be permitted to open provided they have outside spaces such as beer gardens and on the condition they offer table service.

She advised that conditions will be "challenging" and that the UK Government will be developing guidance to help tourism and hospitality business plan for social distancing and hygiene measures.

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said that two-metre distancing could make opening impossible for many, but said the announcement was a "milestone" for the sector.

He said: "Pre-Covid-19, 65,000 people depended on us to put bread on their tables and a roof over their heads; we must now strive to save as many of those jobs as possible. In relation to the current two-metre social distancing requirements, it is highly likely that many hospitality businesses will still be unable to reopen, as it simply will not be commercially viable.

"This is not about safe and unsafe, it is about safe and safer and we are encouraged by the discussion at NI Executive level led by Minister Dodds. I hope to see the distance reduced to one metre in line with WHO guidelines as soon as possible."

Businessman Gerry Carlile, who has three hospitality venues here, said the trade was not as "euphoric as expected".

He said: "I think the hospitality industry faces very challenging times in the period ahead. The industry will need significant assistance in many forms from the Executive and local councils. There should be very clear and detailed guidance on what is expected from the hospitality industry.

"Two-metre social distancing might make it difficult for many businesses to operate in a viable way but ultimately the safety of customers, staff and the general public must be paramount in all of our considerations.

"Some businesses might choose not to open until social distancing is reduced or eradicated altogether. The only alternative might be to permit hospitality outlets to use the footpaths and roads in their immediate vicinity."

Yesterday the First and Deputy First Ministers, Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill, hinted that collaboration among three departments could see the pedestrianisation of some of Northern Ireland's streets to accommodate social distancing rules and allow hospitality outlets to operate.

Ms O'Neill said: "We've shown that we're able to make decisions very quickly when we need to. This is a part of recovery and this is viable ... I think we can do this quickly, it's going to be an essential part of businesses being able to survive."

Howard Hastings, managing director of Hastings Hotels, said the reopening of bars would boost hotel bookings. He added: "We are hopeful that, by then, there'll be clear guidance from the Executive on the social distancing requirements."

Tourism NI chief executive John McGrillen said he was "delighted" with the announcement of an opening date.

He said it would "allow the sector an opportunity to regain some lost business during our peak season and provide a basis for recovery and a return to growth in the future".

Northern Ireland Hotels Federation chief Janice Gault said the date puts Northern Ireland on a similar trajectory to the Republic, and will "allow us to compete on an all-island basis".

Drinks giant Guinness has revealed that 195 Diageo staff have taken to the road to visit over 10,000 pubs, cleaning 70,000 lines and undertaking a series of "rigorous checks" ahead of July 3.

Belfast Telegraph