Tour guides in Northern Ireland are hoping to salvage the lost spring summer season with activity in the autumn.
With lockdown rules prohibiting travel in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus the usually busy spring summer season has not materialised this year.
Booking after booking have been cancelled as passenger flights were grounded and cruise ships stopped docking in Belfast, leaving tour guides forced to stay at home during their most lucrative months.
Catherine Burns, chairperson of the Northern Ireland Tourist Guide Association (NITGA) told the PA news agency that all their members are self employed and rely on the summer season for most of their income.
“A lot of people have seen their earnings disappear,” she said.
“People who do the extended tours work hard and that sustains them through the winter months, that’s what they live on. We have younger guides, this is their business they were building up, and suddenly it has gone for the moment.
“Some people are going to face hardship, some people are depending on their family circle to help them out.
“We might have a bit of a surge in September/October time, but we are not sure what it is going to be.
“Maybe by the end of the year we could see some semblance of normality coming back, particularly with the home market.
“There has been talk of staycations and we need to get our local businesses up and running, so many small organisations have grown up around the tourism industry.
“From our members’ point of view, they are thinking there might be something, but you can’t bank on it.”
Mrs Burns said tourism in Northern Ireland has grown hugely, helped by the Titanic legacy and TV shows such as Game Of Thrones being filmed across the region.
It is an unknown quantity at the moment but I think the effects might be felt longer than we anticipate.Catherine Burns
Courses to train new cohorts of professional tour guides to earn their blue badges restarted in 2016 after more than a decade.
“We were all just getting really comfortable with tourism, television, films and everything that was happening,” she said.
“We were getting on to the world stage for tourism, and we’re going to have to work really hard together to get that all back again.
“John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism NI, has said it could be three-to-five years before we get back to where we were.
“It is an unknown quantity at the moment but I think the effects might be felt longer than we anticipate.
“We need to have a strategy for the next few years to start bringing the industry back up again.”
Mrs Burns added: “People love Northern Ireland, they love Ireland but when they come here they are wowed. Within two minutes of the docks, you have got all this lovely architecture, City Hall, Queen’s, Crumlin Road Gaol, Stormont.
“For years and years Northern Ireland wasn’t mentioned and we didn’t have the business, but year on year it has been growing.
“We’re preparing ourselves, we’re working on our strategy in the hope that when it does come back we will be prepared for it. That’s all we can do at the moment.”