Northern Ireland news

Tourism sector may not fully recover from impact of virus until 2023-24

Hotels, bars and restaurants were forced to close last spring when the first cases were confirmed
Rebecca Black, PA

Northern Ireland’s tourism sector may not fully recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic until 2023-24, it has been warned.

The sector lost £600 million in visitor spend in 2020 due to restrictions aimed at halting the spread of Covid-19, it has been estimated.

Hotels, bars and restaurants were forced to close last spring when the first cases were confirmed here.

While those businesses reopened in early summer, they have experienced closures since, including the most recent lockdown which started in December.

Dr Joanne Stuart, chief executive of the NI Tourism Alliance, said the industry would prefer to wait to “reopen properly” rather than run the risk of future closures.

“Of course we are still closed now since Christmas so the first quarter has gone, which really will be about another £250 million so tourism businesses are just hanging on at the minute,” she said.

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Dr Stuart welcomed the Economic Recovery Action Plan, saying the sector will need further support to reopen and to rebuild.

She added Economy Minister Diane Dodds had been “hugely supportive” in setting up the tourism recovery steering group and working group.

However, she said the tourism industry in Northern Ireland may not get back to pre-pandemic levels until 2023-24.

Dr Stuart said the industry depended on the rollout of the vaccination programme, adding that it expected mainly domestic visitors from within Northern Ireland when the Stormont Executive reopened the sector, with the potential of visitors from Great Britain.

She added: “In terms of the Republic of Ireland, we’re going to have to see. They are a bit behind where we are but what we’re hoping is that they will make good progress and then we will have all of our home markets. We do not expect any international travel.

“The important thing for us is that when we open, we are able to stay open. Last year was really difficult with opening, closing, opening, closing, and that is financially unviable for businesses.

“We are happy to wait a bit longer to get open properly and start to create some momentum.”

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