Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) CEO Janice Gault comments on the review of the Executive’s ‘Moving Forward: Pathway Out of Restrictions’ plan:
“There has been a great deal of anticipation around this review with businesses hoping for further clarity on additional easements. The hotel industry provides services which transverse at least four of the identified pathways and for certain activities is dependent on those trading in several others. Unlocking society and the economy is not an easy task but with falling rates of infection, reduced pressure on hospitals and the success of the vaccination programme, the hope has been that progression along the pathways will be quicker than originally forecast.
The elation of an increase in household mixing, along with the reopening of more elements within hotels, was tempered by the confusing position on travel within the Common Travel Area (CTA). The positive news from the review is the relaxation on what is known as the 6 by 2 rule where only two households could be at the one table. This has been relaxed to allow six people from six households to sit together. Social distancing is set at 1m as a minimum with table service and face covering set to continue. It is also good to see some movement on meetings and events which come on stream in May, with conferences and exhibitions getting an indicative date of the 21st June 2021. There is also clarification around receptions for weddings and civil partnerships. The good news is that these should be permitted from the 24th May on a risk assessed basis with tables of ten and no limit on the top table. Disappointingly, there is still no relaxation on dancing or live music.
The coming week will be tense for the hotel, tourism and wider hospitality sector as it awaits the final decision on the indicative reopening date of 24th May 2021. This date is due to be ratified on the 20th, just four days prior to reopening. Bookings have been strong with the pent-up demand for staycations evident. The hotel industry is looking forward to welcoming guests back and trading in a safe and responsible manner. Reopening brings considerable challenges with a large cohort of staff to recruit and extensive risk assessments to complete, in order to achieve compliance with final regulations that have yet to be published. However, the industry is prepared to invest the time and effort as it is keen to play its part in helping society bounce back.
The one glaring issue that has not been addressed in any logical manner is that of travel within the Common Travel Area (CTA). This is a matter that presents a considerable challenge for the hotel sector and the revised guidance creates further confusion and will be an impossible one to police or monitor. The removal of the essential travel ban is welcomed but the position as outlined, with exemptions, testing and self-isolation is a convoluted one. This stance significantly reduces the market to which hotels and the wider tourism sector can promote to which brings business viability into question. Advising that people are permitted to travel if they are visiting family and friends on the one hand, and then adding testing into the mix, places Northern Ireland at a considerable disadvantage. The domestic market will only sustain the sector for a short period of time and while there is concern about new variants, this position will put considerable pressure on trading in a sustainable manner”.