'Give us our dates' demand from hoteliers and hospitality

WHAT HOSPITALITY WANTS: For the first time in months, outdoor spaces at pubs in England have been allowed to reopen as Covid restrictions are relaxed
Gary McDonald Business Editor

HOTELIERS and hospitality chiefs in the north have reiterated their call for firm re-opening dates for the sector as other UK regions begin to see their doors swing open.

Members of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) met economy minister Diane Dodds to discuss a pathway for the sector, the need for support and the importance of a sustainable trading environment for re-opening.

And Hospitality Ulster issued a hard-hitting statement insisting its members can “no long be on the outside looking in” and insisted there can be “no more waiting.

They are demanding that when the Executive meets on Thursday, the industry is given firm dates and criteria for a financially sustainable reopening.

NIHF president Stephen Meldrum said: “Getting a date will allow hotels to preserve as much of the summer season as possible and engage with staff in terms of training and recruitment.

“It will also give hoteliers the opportunity to liaise with suppliers to ensure goods and services are in place, which will be a challenge given pressures on the supply chain and the number of businesses reopening.

“Federation members want to ensure there is a viable framework in place that will enable hoteliers to reopen their doors and trade in a sustainable way. The crucial component of this is having an opening date to work towards.

“In the other region, indicative dates have been provided for tourism and hospitality opening up, whereas we have had nothing.

“So we are asking that hotels be allowed to open no later than May 17 and that the sector is supported until then. And if premises are in a position to open earlier than this date they should be permitted to do so.”

Minister Dodds said the safe and sustainable reopening of hotels, restaurants and bars is paramount, adding that she “firmly believe it's time to give businesses the clarity and certainty they need to help them to plan, to order in stock and bring staff back off furlough”.

Meanwhile Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill has called on political leaders to engage with the industry ahead of any announcements to determine the restrictions and criteria that will be put in place when plans are developed to see if opening is actually a viable option.

“Reopening will not happen overnight. Businesses need time to prepare, bring in stock and set parameters to ensure what restrictions will be in place for hospitality so businesses can assess the viability of reopening,” he said.

“The majority of premises do not have outdoor space for customers, meaning reopening outdoor only will have limited impact. So the Executive needs to engage with us to consider options.”

He insisted that, as infection rates remain low and given the success of the vaccination roll-out, there should be no further delays.

“The Executive cannot miss this opportunity to reopen the economy and get life moving again. Any further delay will harm businesses, jobs and livelihoods and decimate our sector even more.”

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