Enquiry levels “jumped” immediately after Stormont said Northern Ireland’s hotels can reopen from July 20 as long as the rate of infection is controlled, a leading businessman has said.
The industry has been devastated by a shutdown forced by the coronavirus pandemic in March and this year is not expected to see the usual influx of visitors from Great Britain and overseas.
Economy Minister Diane Dodds said the indicative date for ending lockdown also covered guesthouses, B&Bs and hostels.
Hastings Hotels managing director Howard Hastings is aiming to capture part of the £4 billion usually spent by holidaymakers from the island of Ireland who normally go abroad.
He said: “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.”
Among the Hastings portfolio is the Europa in Belfast city centre and the Slieve Donard beside the Mourne Mountains in Newcastle, Co Down.
Mrs Dodds said Covid-19 has presented an unprecedented challenge, but added: “I believe the time is right to provide the tourist accommodation sector with clarity about opening dates.
“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.”
A steering group will be asked to work with the sector to explore what facilities and amenities can safely be made available by hotels and recommendations will be brought to the Stormont ministerial Executive.
Holiday home parks, caravan sites and self-catering properties are also covered by the July 20 date.
Mrs Dodds said: “As they are self-contained and may require less advance notice before opening, the opening times for these types of accommodation may be advanced to earlier than July 20 depending on scientific advice.”
We listened very carefully to thatArlene Foster
Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said the cry from the hotels industry had been for a date to allow operators to take bookings.
“We listened very carefully to that,” she said.
Bill Wolsey, managing director of hospitality group Beannchor, which owns luxury hotels like the Merchant in Belfast city centre, said it provided a first glimmer of hope for the recovery of the industry.
“As we develop our reopening plan, we will work in partnership with the Executive, health bodies and our peers across the tourism and hospitality sectors to ensure the safety and comfort of all staff and guests so that we open with the correct measures in place to protect all,” he said.
“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.”
A spokesman for the Crowne Plaza Belfast said opening before the summer peak will allow it to service the expected rise of staycations and domestic travellers.
“It is also clearly good news for employment as we will be able to gradually welcome our team back to work.”