Hospitality facing challenges around Flybe & coronavirus
Janice Gault, chief executive, NI Hotels Federation.
Colin Neill, chief executive, Hospitality Ulster
Flybe’s collapse this week, together with the ongoing global proliferation of coronavirus, is creating challenging conditions for the local hospitality trade.
With inbound visitor numbers already in freefall due to concerns around Covid-19, Flybe’s collapse has substantially reduced Northern Ireland’s connectivity, with the beleaguered airline having operated over three-quarters of routes from Belfast City Airport.
“The demise of Flybe is a worrying situation for the hotel sector In Northern Ireland,” said Janice Gault, chief executive, NI Hotels Federation. “The industry is currently working through the challenges thrown up by the coronavirus outbreak and uncertainty around travel. Meanwhile, the sector continues to work in collaboration with other industry partners to ensure that the needs of everyone in the tourism sector are recognised and addressed.
“As a growing £1bn industry, hotels along with all the other strands that make up tourism are keen to see business protected in the short term and promoted in the future to ensure growth.
“After a challenging 2019, nobody was under any illusion about the difficulties that the hotel sector was going to face in 2020. The start of the year brought the unwelcome news of a 6.2% rise in the national minimum wage, well ahead of inflation and a significant rise in business rates. Brexit weighed heavily on the sector with concerns about access to staff and the visitor welcome. Costs have long been an area of concern and the NIHF along with partners in the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance (NITA) will be outlining them to government at all levels and seeking support for the sector.
“In addition to relief on cost, we will also be pressing for a campaign on staycations, and support for the sector for the remainder of the year by way of promotion in overseas markets. Interestingly, the demand for rooms has grown over the last year and we hope that this will be the norm once the current exceptional circumstances have been addressed.
“Hotels are intrinsically linked to the growth of tourism and are a long-term investment. It is important to note that the sector has invested heavily over the last decade and has weathered storms before. We are confident that the entire industry can bounce back from recent knock backs and continue to contribute much to the Northern Ireland economy. We simply need support to ensure that we can continue to trade and additional promotion to increase business once the situation improves.”
Colin Neill, chief executive, Hospitality Ulster, said: “This is simply devastating news for Northern Ireland. The regional connectivity that Flybe offered was vitally important to tourism and our wider hospitality sector here, without it there will be a huge impact on visitor access. The knock-on effect of fewer visitors and tourists means that this sounds alarm for our pubs, restaurants and hotels at a time when Coronavirus is compounding the sector’s problems.”
“Great Britain is our largest tourism market and without that regional connectivity, the hospitality sector is going to take a real hammering. Our only hope in the short term is that other carriers can increase capacity so that visitors can come here and not be put off by Flybe’s collapse.”
“This is a very clear reason why Air Passenger Duty needs to be scrapped immediately and we call on the Chancellor to wake up to this grave situation and cancel APD in his Budget only a week away.”