Economy Minister Diane Dodds today hailed the resilience of the Northern Ireland hotels sector.
The Minister attended the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation annual conference, held fully virtually.
Speaking after a question and answer session with participants, the Minister commended the sector on its response to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. She said: “Prior to the pandemic our local hotel sector was flourishing and looking forward to a record-breaking year in 2020. Sadly, Covid-19 resulted in the sector having to close for a number of months.
“However, our local hotels have shown proactivity, flexibility and resilience in the face of the unprecedented challenges presented by the virus. Many provided accommodation for key front line workers during the first wave, going the extra mile to help ensure essential services could be delivered.
“And since the wider reopening of the hotel sector in July, we have seen the real potential of the staycation market. Hoteliers have led the way in embedding safety measures for staff and customers and adapting their offering, and they salvaged a summer season in the most difficult of circumstances.”
The Minister continued: “Under the latest restrictions just announced this morning, the Executive has decided the hospitality sector now must close again for normal business, with some specific exceptions, for four weeks from Friday 16 October. I am urgently engaging with Executive colleagues to clarify the specifics of these new restrictions, and the potential impact on hotels, before they come into effect.
“I recognise this is another tough blow for the sector and I am working with Executive colleagues to urgently identify what financial or other support can be offered to help hotels, and the wider hospitality sector, through this very difficult time.”
The Minister added: “In April I set up a Tourism Recovery Steering Group and the hotel sector has played a key role in providing me with valuable expertise and advice, and I thank them for their input. I am reconvening the group urgently to discuss the issues arising from the latest Executive restrictions.
“I do not underestimate the challenges that remain in front of us. Our tourism and hospitality industry will continue to be impacted by Covid-19 for some time to come, but I am confident that the hotels sector will play a central role in the recovery and I look forward to continued collaboration.”
Stephen Meldrum, President of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, said: “The hotel sector has faced many challenges in the past and recent events have tested the mettle of even the most resilient operators. Minister Dodds has shown a great understanding of the industry and has been unfailing in her support.
“There has been a £650million investment in the last five years, placing us on an excellent footing once we can return to normal trading. Hoteliers are keen to play a role in restoring the Northern Ireland economy and supporting societal recovery. The Northern Ireland Hotels Federation looks forward working with the Minister in better times and, with her assistance, is certain that the full potential of the tourism sector can be realised.”