Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) CEO Janice Gault said:
“The Northern Ireland Executive’s announcement of an extension to lockdown is not surprising with most people expecting the current measures to be extended. Northern Ireland Hotels Federation members are keen to open. However, after three lockdowns they are hesitant to do so while the threat of a further lockdown hangs over them. Reopening must occur in a sustainable manner and within a viable framework.
There is currently support in place until the 5th March. The NIHF will be lobbying for an extension of these measures until the 31st March, in line with the extended lockdown date. Furlough is available until the 30th April and while this is costly for businesses, this support helps maintain safety and gives some security.
Dealing with the health crisis has been the number one priority and the roll out of the vaccine, along with a fall in the R number, is welcome news. There is a recognition that we are not out of the woods yet and that reopening will be a gradual process. The Federation sees a return to trading as a five-stage pathway which is outlined in a policy document: Return to Trading for Hotels. Hotels and the wider tourism industry will remain in survival mode for the immediate future. The strain of this on businesses is considerable. The Federation hopes that engagement with Government will begin soon and that industry can input to the reopening pathway This will allow the sector to plan for reopening, moving onto the recovery and restoration phases. There is a long way to go before we return to previous trading levels.
It is important that we have some certainty and while everyone appreciates the challenging landscape, an exit plan is required with a timeline. It is good to hear that this will be progressed by the Executive and we look forward to working collaboratively. The effect of the pandemic has been catastrophic on the tourism and hospitality sector. The industry will require support from central government and at a devolved level. For the hotel sector this falls over eight key areas which have been outlined in the Federation’s ‘Return to Trading for Hotels’ document. The budget on the 3rd March 2021 is a landmark date. The extension of the 5% VAT level beyond the 31st March 2021 is imperative, ideally until the sector is restored to pre COVID-19 levels. Furlough needs to be looked at in terms of cost and extension of timeline. At a local level, an extension of business rates relief will be a key ask for the coming financial year.
The need for a viable framework within which the industry can trade is an essential element of reopening. As a well-regulated sector which has shown the ability to operate safely, the Federation will be calling on the Executive to remove the curfew. This is a restriction that has little effect on the spread of the virus but has significant impact on the viability of trading. Other asks will include promotional activity to restore confidence and stimulate trade, a planned review of regulation and exploring mitigations to prevent further lockdowns.
At this juncture, the light at the end of the tunnel may only be flickering. In the coming weeks, we hope it will start to guide us towards reopening and better times. Hotels will await further news on the pathway to recovery and are keen to play a positive role in the restoration of the local economy”.