Disbelief and distress prevails for NI hotels sector
Janice Gault, chief executive, Northern Ireland Hotels Federation.
Turnover is forecast to fall to less than a third of 2019 figures, including a loss totalling £70m across the current six-week closure, according to the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF), which has expressed its frustration over the NI Executive’s 11th hour decision making.
Hotels had been expecting to reopen today after four-week Covid-19 restrictions, but only heard last night they would be unable to resume trading until November 27.
“At the 11th hour a deal was struck by the Northern Ireland Executive to end the deadlock over exiting the current circuit breaker,” said Janice Gault, chief executive, Northern Ireland Hotels Federation.
“For many in the hotel sector the decision was an irrelevant one as they did not have enough time to open. Others had taken a punt and made preparations for a return to trade. Either way, the sector was the loser in the long run, as hotels will remain closed for a further two weeks.
“From a hotel perspective, it has been a bleak month with frustration morphing into exasperation over the last week. The air of despondency at the start of the process has been replaced with one of disbelief and distress.
“Emotions aside, the pertinent facts of the hotel industry show a stark picture with all metrics under stress. Turnover is forecast to fall to less than a third of 2019 and the extended six-week closure will see a loss of sales in the region of £70m. Outlays including furlough, salaries and fixed costs will see hoteliers pay out over £10m for the six-week closure.
“To date, there has been limited compensation for the sector with the only monies provided under the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme. The maximum support under this scheme is £6,400, a paltry sum given the level of outgoings. It is understood that additional financial aid will be provided but after four weeks of closure, it is disappointing that these monies have not been agreed and paid out.
“The sector now has a date to work to and is hoping to open for 27th November, ideally that morning, so a full weekend’s trading can take place going some little way to replace lost revenue. Hotels have already invested over £5m in ensuring Covid-19 compliance and have always held the health of employees and guests as the most important aspect of all operations.
“Given that considerable mitigations are already in place, it is imperative that the sector is allowed to trade in a viable manner. Better communication, a review channel and proportionate enforcement backed by proper penalties are vital parts of re-opening.
“Hotels, along with the wider hospitality and tourism sector, need to have an opportunity to trade viably over the coming weeks. It is important that we offer some respite from the ravages that COVID-19 has wrought on our society. After 27 days, the resilience of the sector has been sorely tested but the industry is preparing itself for re-opening and looks forward to welcoming guests into its premises once again.”