As the economy starts to transition out of lockdown the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) today met with the Economy Minister Diane Dodds MLA to discuss a pathway for the sector, the need for support and the importance of a sustainable trading environment for re-opening.
Outlining the discussion and some of the pressing issues facing the industry NIHF President Stephen Meldrum said:
“Hoteliers really appreciate the government support that has been received to date and the continuing assistance that is being offered to the industry. However, the Federation is pressing for the sector to be included in the 15 April review with an indicative date forthcoming at that time. A date will allow hotels to preserve as much of the summer season as possible and engage with staff in terms of training and recruitment. It will also give hoteliers the opportunity to liaise with suppliers to ensure goods and services are in place, which will be a challenge given pressures on the supply chain and the number of businesses reopening. There is also the issue of weddings and civil ceremonies with over 3,000 weddings in the coming months, it is vital that we reassure those planning to have one of the most important days of their lives and give them some certainty.
“The Federation members want to ensure that there is a viable framework in place that will enable hoteliers to reopen their doors and trade in a sustainable way. The crucial component of this is having an opening date to work towards. In the other devolved nations and England indicative dates have been provided for tourism and hospitality opening up, whereas in Northern Ireland there has been no mention of re-opening. The Federation is asking that hotels be allowed to open no later than the 17 May 2021 and that the sector is supported until then. If premises are in a position to open earlier than this date they should be permitted to do so.”
Stephen continues: “The Federation recently surveyed its members in relation to re-opening and there is an acceptance that COVID-19 regulations that have been in place will need to continue. Members are willing to reopen with mitigations in place, albeit in the short term. The curfew presents a considerable challenge and brings not only the viability of trading but the attractiveness of an overnight stay into question. Evidence has shown that a curfew does not reduce the risk of infection, and in the experience of hoteliers, they have found it encourages unmonitored drinking in smaller social spaces with guests migrating to bedrooms or house parties after 11.00pm. A curfew, therefore, heightens risk, while also making trading viably more difficult. Hoteliers reported that last year’s 10.30pm closure resulted in a fall of 30% in food and beverage revenue”.
Stephen concludes: “The industry is mature enough to understand that the dynamic nature of the pandemic with its many moving parts may result in some delays or amendment to plans but planning is the key to success. Hotels can offer a real opportunity to maximise the potential of staycations, create new employment, restore the economy and give much needed hope.”
Discussing the meeting, Economy Minister Diane Dodds MLA said:
“I welcome the opportunity to meet with the NIHF. The last twelve months have been extremely challenging for the hotel sector, and the wider tourism and hospitality industry. I have been very impressed with the resilience and fortitude of the industry throughout the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. The safe and sustainable reopening of our hotels, restaurants and bars is paramount. I firmly believe it is time to give businesses the clarity and certainty they need to help them to plan, to order in stock and bring staff back off furlough.
“We must put all our efforts into restarting and rebuilding our economy. In March I launched my Economic Recovery Action Plan setting out a strategy to build a more competitive, inclusive and greener economy. This includes the High Street Stimulus Scheme and Tourism Voucher Scheme that will boost demand in our struggling towns, city centres and tourism sector.”