North's hotels need 17 days and 2,500 extra staff to reopen - industry body

Hotels in the north have said they will need 17 days to prepare for reopening out of lockdown.
Ryan McAleer

HOTELS around the north will need an average of 17 days to prepare to reopen out of lockdown, with an estimated 2,565 new staff needed, a leading industry body has said.

The Hotels Federation said it surveyed 63 hotels as the Executive begins its tentative moves toward the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions.

Two-thirds said reopening just for residents and without a bar or restaurant offering would not be viable. Just over half said it would not be viable to reopen without spa or leisure facilities.

The survey suggested just over 3,700 weddings are booked in hotels over May, June and July.

There are currently 143 hotels certified with Tourism Northern Ireland with a total of 9,580 bedrooms.

As of today, they have been closed for 96 continuous days, the longest period since the first lockdown restrictions were introduced on March 26 2020.

The three lockdowns implemented here have resulted in just 120 days of trade, including 38 under curfew.

The hospitality or tourism sector has yet to receive an indicative date for reopening.

Chief executive of the Hotels Federation, Janice Gault recruitment is the biggest concern for the sector.

“While not all were able to give definite numbers, the data collected indicates that the hotel sector will need to recruit over 2,500 staff prior to re-opening. This is not a short process as staff have to be selected, interviewed and trained.”

She said that the industry is braced for considerable pent-up demand for staycations.

“However, without an opening date, it is impossible to commence any recruitment process and there is a real risk that if hotels open under the stress of poor staffing levels, they won’t be able to satisfy customer needs and therefore they won’t be able to realise the full potential of staycations.”

The latest figures from HMRC showed 25,250 people furloughed in the north’s accommodation and food service sector at the end of February, including 6,230 in the Belfast city council area.

President of the Hotels Federation, Stephen Meldrum, said even when allowed to open, the curfew imposed on the sector last year resulted in a 30 per cent fall in food and beverage revenue.

He also expressed concern over the restrictions on weddings, a market that is typically worth up to 35 per cent of a hotel’s turnover.

“Weddings with receptions were allowed to take place from 3rd July 2020 with risk assessments in place,” he said. “There was guidance in place which was the premise for the staging of weddings throughout any permitted opening.

“Currently receptions are not permitted. The new pathway suggested that receptions will be slower to return with a restriction on numbers when their prohibition is lifted.

“Three quarters of those who stage weddings do not think that this is viable for them,” said Mr Meldrum.

“A number have also indicated that without a restoration of the wedding market under the risk assessed model, the viability of their entire operation is questionable.”

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