Northern Ireland news

Personal stories of trying to keep businesses afloat during Covid-19 pandemic told in documentary

The documentary looks at how Northern Ireland’s hospitality sector suffered during the pandemic

THE personal stories of the financial and human cost of trying to keep businesses afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic are told in a documentary examining the impact on Northern Ireland's hospitality industry.

Business owners and industry representatives tell the UTV programme how the coronavirus crisis has been the "biggest challenge ever faced" by the sector.

"We were just in slow motion heading towards an iceberg with no escape and no end in sight," said Alan Simms from the Limelight in Belfast.

'Up Close - Summer Reservations' looks at what happened to the hospitality and tourism sector in the north after the pandemic hit and how it is navigating its way out of the crisis.

Describing the immense difficulties over the past year, Hospitality Ulster’s Colin Neill tells the programme "it's fair to say as an industry we've been to hell and back".

"It has been the biggest challenge ever faced by the hospitality industry, by the individual business, the business owners and the staff and it's not over yet, but we're going in the right direction," he said.

Trevor Kane from the Bayview Hotel in Portballintrae tells of the devastating financial impact of lockdown.

"For our business here around £15,000 a month to mothball," he said.

"Over a 10 month period, it's £150,000 just fluttered away, gone, but you know, it has to be done and there's nothing I can do about it.

"So any grant that we've got, which we’re very, very thankful for, has been eaten up and obviously with the other costs such as general maintenance, because you can't let a building like this go downhill.

"You have to keep on top of it."

With many restaurants forced to rethink how they operated, developing cook at home meals and creating outdoor spaces, now there is hope for the summer months, particularly with staycations providing a lifeline to businesses.

Donal Doherty from Harry’s Shack in Portstewart said the demand he is seeing indicates a busy few months ahead.

"The home staycation market is going to boom this year," he said.

"There’s an opportunity there to say not only are we going to have a really busy summer, but let's give them an experience which says the following year, actually, we’re not going to go to Portugal or Spain."

John McGrillen from Tourism NI also said that research had shown that "tourism is going to come back with a bang".

"There's huge demand out there, right across the globe, to travel," he said.

"So I don't see any reason why we should feel pessimistic."

Up Close - Summer Reservations will be on UTV on Friday at 9pm.

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