'Staycations saved the summer' but NI hotel industry forecast to finish the year 40% behind 2019

The summer staycation boom helped the north's hotel industry survive, but it will still end the year well behind pre-pandemic levels, according to a new report.

STAYCATIONS have been the saviour of the north’s hotels over the summer, but the industry is still likely to finish 2021 at 40 per cent behind pre-pandemic levels, according to a new report.

The study commissioned by Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) has forecast that the sector will sell around 1.5 million rooms this year.

Although a significant improvement on the 1.15 million sold in 2020, it remains well off 2019 levels.

The industry had entered the pandemic after investing £800m to produce a record 9,627 rooms in 145 properties, directly employing some 10,000 people.

Presenting the findings ahead of the start of the two-day Hospitality Exchange conference in Belfast, the chief executive of the Hotels Federation, Janice Gault, said: “Staycations have been the saviour of the summer with support during the final lockdown ensuring the survival of the sector.”

But the hospitality tsar said trade has started to fall back as leisure business returns to a more normal Autumn and Winter weekend pattern.

The Hotels Federation said limited events and the sluggish return of business travel, along with confusion and constraints on international travel, will make the Monday to Thursday window more difficult to fill.

Ms Gault said the ‘Spend Local’ and ‘Stay at Home’ vouchers will be ‘important weapons’ in the ‘recovery artillery’.

She also said anecdotal reports suggest strong bookings from international markets who are keen to visit with the island of Ireland, viewing it as a safe and secure destination for post pandemic travel.

“Ireland as an international destination has a good reputation but the propensity to travel at present is low,” she said.

“There will be pent up demand and hopefully this business can be realised at a future date”.

The NIHF chief said the industry is continuing to face “a people crisis”. A survey carried out by the industry group last month suggested a shortage of 1,400 staff in Northern Ireland, with 100 per cent of respondents reporting vacancies.

Some 85 per cent said they had restricted their services in line with their available staff.

NIHF President Stephen Meldrum said many challenges lie ahead.

“The key for the hotel industry is to be allowed to trade sustainably within a clear and workable framework,” he said.

“Hotels have shown their resilience and resolve. They have traded responsibly, and they have a strong reputation.

“The support that has been received to date has been welcomed but as recovery becomes more truncated this support must continue so that the industry can survive.”

Hospitality Exchange takes place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Belfast, across October 12 and 13.

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