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Cash to support the 150,000 people employed in Northern Ireland's tourism and hospitality sector

Thanks to Government help and improved levels of business, Lough Erne Resort has been able to bring back its full team of staff

IT'S ALL HERE IN NI: Stand-up paddleboarding at Fermanagh's Lough Erne Resort
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Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK Government has continued to act with speed to protect jobs in Northern Ireland. This support has included a cut in VAT to five per cent, to not only safeguard the hospitality industry but ensure it thrives. Here’s how it helps employers, employees and the community.

A new UK Government scheme to support the economy in Northern Ireland by protecting and creating jobs is proving to be a success. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Plan for Jobs unveiled this summer is designed to help keep people in employment and create new opportunities in key tourism and hospitality industries to safeguard the country’s economic future.

The package of measures gives businesses such as hotels, restaurants, pubs and guest houses the confidence to keep existing staff, take on more employees and provide training. In Northern Ireland at least 150,000 people are employed in this sector. The UK Government has acted to secure the future of the industry and those working in it.

The temporary VAT cut from 20 per cent to five per cent for tourism and hospitality encourages consumers to safely enjoy eating out, days out and to make the most of domestic travel, where relaxation of lockdown rules safely allows.

The scheme, saving households an average £160 per year, supports more than 2.4 million staff at more than 150,000 businesses, helping them recover and reopen after COVID-19 lockdowns. The initiative also gives such businesses the confidence to keep their staff as more people come through the door and business activity continues.

An estimated 9.6 million jobs have been supported by the UK Government’s furlough scheme since it was set up to protect workers during the pandemic.

As the rate of infection of coronavirus changes, please ensure that you adhere to any localised measures that are introduced in your area.

As part of the plan to support jobs, a Job Retention Bonus is being introduced to help firms keep furloughed workers. All UK employers will receive a one-off bonus of £1,000 for each furloughed employee who remains continuously employed through to the end of January 2021. Employees must earn above the Lower Earnings Limit (£520 per month) on average between the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the end of January 2021.

Payments will be made from February 2021 while the VAT cut will end on January 12 2021.

AWARD-WINNING: Fermanagh's Five star Lough Erne Resort has enjoyed financial help from the UK Government

‘A really positive response to bookings across the business’

A multi-award winning resort, considered a gateway to North West, has hailed the UK Government’s hospitality and tourism industry VAT cut as “most welcome”.

The five star Lough Erne Resort is among many businesses in Northern Ireland currently reaping the benefits of VAT reduction from 20 to five per cent.

General manager Joanne Walsh explains: “The hospitality sector as a whole has been severely impacted by COVID-19, especially as a result of the three month lockdown.

“Given the dynamic nature of the current situation, the sector’s recovery remains fragile. Therefore, financial interventions of any kind to support employment across our sector, are to be welcomed.

“The temporary reduction in VAT certainly is a most welcome short-term measure to help the tourism sector against a backdrop of increased cost, reductions in revenue and large elements of normal revenue streams that had dried up suddenly as a result of the pandemic.”

The company also made use of the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme.

“The UKGovernment support for the NI economy in general has been really beneficial, most especially the Job Retention (Furlough) Scheme,” adds Joanne.

All aspects of the resort – including accommodation, Thai spa, treatment rooms, two golf courses and Catalina Restaurant – had to close due to coronavirus.

“Clearly the pandemic hit quickly and the hospitality sector was not alone in feeling the brunt of a sudden loss of business,” explained Joanne.

“Our executive team, liaising closely with our owners, assessed the situation and moved swiftly to suspend business in a professional and timely manner. Obviously, we had to liaise closely with guests, staff and suppliers, which we did.”

“All of our staff were impacted by the COVID-19 closure to one degree or another. We sought to work closely and communicate regularly with them,” added Joanne.

“As a large local employer, we are cognisant of our place in the local community, so we took all the steps necessary to protect the business and maximise the chances of bringing as many of our loyal team back on a full-time basis as quickly as possible.”

Due to improved levels of business, the resort has now brought back its full staff team. “We’re proud to have a team who care passionately about delivering exemplary guest experience and proud they are going the extra mile since the return from lockdown,” explains Joanne.

“Feedback from guests has been really positive since the reopening in July. They appreciate the resort is a business employing local people and how vital we are to the local economy.

“They have been incredibly supportive and understanding since lockdown was first announced. For example, we have been able to work with couples who had booked their weddings at the resort during the lockdown period to agree to new dates and ensure we can still provide them with a fabulous day to remember.

“We have seen a really positive response in enquiries and bookings across all aspects of the business from accommodation to dining, spa and golf. In fact, we have seen strong utilisation of our golf courses and an increase in membership since their re-opening.”

WARM WELCOME: Lough Erne Resort's general manager Joanne Walsh said the reduction in VAT was most welcome

The resort, which boasts 120 luxury guest rooms and is within easy distance of Belfast and Dublin airports, produced and launched an in-depth Guest Care and Wellbeing Promise to give staff and guests confidence, especially around social distancing and mitigating the risk of virus transmission.

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