Northern Ireland’s tourism and hospitality sectors have a vital role to play in our economic recovery following the COVID-19 crisis.
That was the key message from Economy Minister Diane Dodds when she addressed the first meeting of the Tourism Recovery Working Group today.
She said: “Just last year tourism was a £1 billion industry, employing 65,000 people. COVID-19 has changed all that.
“I know the tourism and hospitality industry is supporting health workers and carers, offering hotels as auxiliary hospitals, providing accommodation for key workers and meals for the most vulnerable in our society. I want to thank them for this.
“However, when the industry emerges from this crisis, it will look very different to that which existed only a few weeks ago.”
The Minister said that, in the short term, it could be to Northern Ireland’s advantage that 76% of tourism spend came from the UK and the island of Ireland last year. This is because market research points to the recovery of the tourism industry beginning in the domestic market.
She added: “The challenges are difficult, but with crisis comes opportunity. What we are seeing is a re-setting of global tourism. Previous assumptions which informed the business no longer apply. Our tourism destinations are effectively in start-up mode.
“This will allow us to re-shape our industry in a way that brings greatest benefit to local communities and to our economy as a whole.
“So, whilst we continue to face many challenges ahead, I am very conscious of the importance of planning ahead and that we identify plans for recovery which can be implemented in the future, when it is appropriate to do so.
“A cohesive approach will be vital to this recovery and will require partnership with the industry and across government.”
The Working Group, led by Tourism NI, has been set up to support the Northern Ireland Tourism Recovery Steering Group which is chaired by the Minister and made up of key stakeholders. The Steering Group leads on planning and preparing for the recovery of the industry as we begin to emerge from COVID-19.
The purpose of the Working Group is to identify the key issues facing the various sectors within the tourism industry, consider the interventions required and make recommendations to the Steering Group to take forward.