Tourism firms secure rescue loans and call for public support when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted

The Exploris Centre in Portaferry. Picture Mal McCann.

THREE tourism firms in the north are among the latest to receive rescue finance through the UK Government-backed Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS).

The Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry and Pickie Park in Bangor, are owned by common shareholders.

They said the finance secured through Danske Bank will enable them to stay afloat while they are closed to customers because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The loan scheme includes and 80 per cent guarantee from the UK Government.

One of the directors, Kieran Quinn said the timing of the shutdown couldn’t have been worse for tourism related businesses.

“We were coming out of low season and getting ready for the big boom that usually starts at Easter and runs through the summer. We had just made an investment in Exploris to open new attractions.”

He said the loan will help keep the attractions afloat.

“When lockdown is lifted we are ready for business, so I’d really encourage people to get out and support local tourism businesses when it is safe to do so. The economy depends on people spending.”

Mr Quinn said the industry is hoping to benefit from an anticipated boom in the staycation market when restrictions are eased.

But he said tourism firms are keen to receive government guidance on the resumption of international travel and the social distancing rules that will apply in coming months.

 Pickie Park.

Venues including Crumlin Road Gaol also rely on events like weddings and concerts.

But while many events have been rescheduled until later in the year, Mr Quinn said it will be hard for businesses in the sector to open if social distancing rules means they can’t get enough customers through the doors to cover their costs.

On Monday, Danske Bank confirmed that it had approved 257 of the 289 CBILS applications it had received, just under 90 per cent.

Ellen Matthews, business banking manager at the bank said: “Businesses in the tourism industry would normally be hitting their stride at this time of year but instead find themselves closed due to coronavirus.

“We were glad to be able to quickly provide vital support to these three well-known local tourist attractions through the CBILS scheme and we look forward to seeing them re-open soon.”

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