Tourism industry begins the countdown to July 20... But pubs and restaurants renew call for reopening date

The Grand Central Hotel in Belfast. Hotels across the north have been told they can accept guests from July 20. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Ryan McAleer

THE north’s tourism industry will kick up several gears in seven weeks with the announcement that hotels, caravan sites and guesthouses can reopen on July 20.

The move, which includes B&Bs, hostels, holiday parks, self-catering properties, will mean all tourist accommodation on the island of Ireland will largely reopen in tandem next month.

The Executive came under criticism on Thursday when it announced that hotels could accept bookings from June 8 without providing venues with an opening date.

In response, Ministers emerged from a Monday morning meeting of the Executive with the date of July 20, on the condition that the spread of coronavirus can be contained.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds said the date for self-contained accommodation such as caravan sites, holiday homes and self-catering properties, could be brought forward depending on scientific advice.

"Covid-19 has presented an unprecedented challenge for our tourism industry, as it has for tourism markets around the world,” she said.

"I believe the time is right to provide the tourist accommodation sector with clarity about opening dates.”

Yesterday’s move was broadly welcomed across the sector. Janice Gault of the Hotels Federation said it marked “a step forward for the industry”, but she said more work would be needed around the details.

But Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said that pubs and restaurants, including those inside hotels, are still without a reopening date.

“We believe all businesses should be reopened based on safety, not what they sell,” he said.
He once again called for pubs and restaurants to be given a reopening date to work toward.

The head of the family-owned group behind the Europa, Grand Central and Slieve Donard hotels, Howard Hastings, yesterday reflected on the scale of the pandemic’s impact on the tourist industry.

“That loss to the economy is something that won’t easily be replaced,” he said.

Beannchor boss Bill Wolsey, who runs the Merchant Hotel and a portfolio of well-known Belfast bars and restaurants said hotels could now look ahead.

He described the announcement as “the first glimmer of hope” for the industry’s recovery.

But he called for further clarification around hotel facilities: “Not just in enabling us and other hoteliers to provide as well-rounded a service to our guests as possible, but also to begin to shape our staffing capacity and inject a much-needed boost to the local economy by reinstating as many jobs as we can.”

The Department for the Economy said the recently established Tourism Recovery Steering Group will be asked to work with the sector to explore what facilities and amenities can safely be made available by hotels, with recommendations due to be brought before the Executive “in due course”.

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