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Editor's Viewpoint

The clock is ticking for Northern Ireland tourism sector

Editor's Viewpoint


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Staycations are the holidays of choice this year until the global pandemic is seen to be under control

Staycations are the holidays of choice this year until the global pandemic is seen to be under control

Staycations are the holidays of choice this year until the global pandemic is seen to be under control

The Republic of Ireland has always been the winner in attracting tourists to this island. Northern Ireland's toxic legacy of the Troubles made it a no-go area for nigh on 30 years, and it has really only been in the last decade that the province has begun to realise its tourism potential.

This year was supposed to be the year when the industry broke through the £1bn income barrier, until coronavirus caused a serious rethink.

But as Northern Ireland begins its pathway to recovery, there is a danger that tourism could suffer from self-inflicted wounds. For the Republic has decided to reopen hotels, bars and restaurants on June 29 - a full three weeks before the date set by the NI Executive for a similar move on this side of the border. As one expert who has long hands-on experience of the sector puts it, we are in danger of not only handing over our tourism silver, but allowing the Republic to eat off it as well.

Staycations are the holidays of choice this year until the global pandemic is seen to be under control, and there is no doubt thousands of Northern Ireland customers will head over the border when the hospitality sector reopens.

The summer season is only about eight to 10 weeks so the loss of three weeks would have a disastrous effect on the industry here.

Those wanting a break from lockdown will be making their holiday arrangements as soon as possible and unless the NI Executive brings forward the date for getting the hospitality sector operating again when it meets tomorrow, it could be too late.

Ministers need to heed the voices of those who work in the sector - and in fairness, they have been responsive and responsible in their reaction to other sectors. There is a very short window of opportunity for the industry to make money and save jobs and it should not be truncated unduly.

That said, of course the usual caveats must be heeded. Social distancing and proper hygiene are imperative in helping to stop the spread of the virus and cannot be ignored.

However, it is very encouraging that there have been no deaths from the virus for three days in a row and the number of new cases uncovered by testing remains in single figures each day.

The conditions for reopening the hospitality sector in a measured and sensible manner and in line with the Republic appear to be favourable, and would be an enormous boost to both providers and customers.

Belfast Telegraph