A financial support package for tourism firms due to go live next Monday may be too late, industry representatives have warned.
Announced by Economy Minister Diane Dodds last Friday, the 10-day wait for the £25,000 grant scheme may prove critical to the loss of many good tourism businesses and thousands of jobs, according to the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance (NITA).
Firms in hospitality, retail and tourism can apply for the funding on April 20 with payments due around 15 days later.
The money is intended to help ease cash flow pressures as the sector suffers the catastrophic economic impact of coronavirus.
But on what would have been the start of the summer season, businesses have seen their tourism income drop to zero and are desperately trying to keep afloat until the scheme goes live.
NITA chief executive Joanne Stuart called for interim payments to tide firms over.
"We are now pleading with banks and other financial institutions to work with the industry as they wait to submit business critical applications," she said.
"Jobs are being shed now, cancellations have already happened, businesses are ready to close now. The Assembly needs to make interim payments now if these businesses and jobs are to survive."
Firms are struggling to meet upfront staffing costs as they await the implementation of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and were relying on the grant scheme to fill the gap in funding.
"This meant we would have had an interim cash flow that would have plugged the gap until the furlough scheme went live," added Ms Stuart.
"However, as the grants have not been distributed, businesses may not be able to survive until the end of April much less start making grant applications."
In the absence of immediate cash flow relief, the NITA said companies and jobs will be lost ahead of the scheme's implementation.
"The tourism industry will be an important part of our economic recovery once we start to see restrictions lifted and the impact of the virus receding," it said. "We need to ensure tourism businesses survive through these unprecedented circumstances and be in a position to provide a future for staff and deliver for the economy."