Northern Ireland news

Hotels now able to apply for Omicron Hospitality Payment Scheme following initial exclusion

Finance minister Conor Murphy said hotels are a 'vital part' of the north's hospitality industry. Picture by Michael Cooper
Paul Ainsworth

THE Omicron Hospitality Payment Scheme is to be extended to include hotels, Stormont's finance minister Conor Murphy has announced.

Hotels, along with certain sports clubs, will now be able to apply for a one-off grant of between £10,000 and £20,000 under the scheme's extension.

The initial £40 million scheme to assist hospitality businesses facing financial turmoil over the Omicron Covid-19 variant was announced last month by Mr Murphy, with businesses including nightclubs, bars and restaurants able to apply for a grant.

To date, over £23.7million has issued to 1,936 businesses, but hotels were among hospitality venues initially excluded from applying.

The owner of a historic hotel in Co Antrim told the Irish News last month she was in "shock" and "at a loss" to understand why hotels would be ineligible.

Denise Hunt, owner of the Londonderry Arms in Carnlough, said hotels "need to know what plans are there for financial support" in the face of reduced business caused by Covid.

Another hotel owner, Ken Sharp of the Salty Dog in Bangor, Co Down, said staff were enduring a "climate of fear" over the ongoing uncertainty caused by reduced takings.

Yesterday, Mr Murphy said hotels were a "vital part of our hospitality industry and have undoubtedly been impacted by Omicron facing cancellations over the festive period".

He added: "I was determined to ensure hotels were not left without support and in the absence of a bid for funding for a scheme to help this sector being brought forward, my department has again taken the lead and obtained Executive approval to include hotels in the Omicron Hospitality Payment scheme."

The Salty Dog's Ken Sharpe told the Irish News that while he welcomed the extension, there remained a "frustration" that hotels were not initially included.

"There's a sense that hotels are all thought of as the Grand Central, when in reality a third of the trade is smaller, family run hotels that desperately needed assistance at the same time as other hospitality businesses," he said.

Meanwhile, the scheme extension was welcomed by chief executive of the NI Hotel Federation, Janice Gault.

"For most hotels December is their busiest month and trade secured helps to mitigate losses that traditionally occur in the first two months of the new year," she said.

"Hotels premises experienced a reduction of up to 60 percent on food, beverage and function business. Hoteliers are pleased their plight has been recognised in a similar way to other components of the hospitality industry."

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