By Donal McMahon
HOTELS facing staffing and produce challenges after lockdown are urgently looking towards the NI Executive to include them in the next roadmap of opening business.
Northern Ireland will enter step two no earlier than April 15, and step three not before late May.
Step four, which will come into force towards the end of June, should see “all legal limits on social contact” lifted pending in each region of the UK and their successful roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine.
A survey by conducted by the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) has revealed that hoteliers would require an average of 17 days to reopen and have positions for over 2,500 staff which they will need to recruit prior to reopening.
Canal Court and Carrickdale, hotel marketing manager, Orla Hayes who has the unique position of experiencing the Covid-19 lockdown from both sides of the border, has highlighted the need for hotels to critically be given early notice of reopening to boost the local economy to its potenial.
“In simple terms the more notice the hotel has to reopen, the better opportunity we have to promote the hotel and the destination of Newry and Mourne,” said Ms Hayes.
“Whilst we have remained in close contact with all our staff currently on furlough, there is a concern the longer the hospitality sector is left closed the greater chance staff will choose to move into other industry sectors, and therefore it is imperative that hospitality is not left behind.
“We have stock to order, organise staffing levels and to give potential wedding couples the opportunity to either proceed or postpone their wedding day.
“We have a great opportunity to promote staycations and the less time we have to prepare will determine the level of bookings into the local area,” she added.
Across Northern Ireland there are currently 143 hotels with 9,580 bedrooms certified by Tourism Northern Ireland.
Hotels are currently on a third lockdown having opened and closed three times over the last year.
The sector was originally mandated to close on March 26, 2020, which was the start of three lockdowns that were implemented over the course of last year.
The Canal Court and Carrickdale, despite being in two different jurisdictions, have maintained dual closure during the pandemic, though the rollout of the UK vaccine might now give the Newry hotel an advantage over its Southern sister.
“Whilst the general safety messages are the same North and South, there is no confirmed timetable of reopening for either,” said Ms Hayes.
“We do believe the successful vaccination delivery in the North, will enable the Canal Court hotel to reopen at the earliest opportunity.
“The South has indicated a June reopening, but we are hopeful that the North is able to provide an earlier date than that given the speedy vaccination rollout,” she added.
Weddings and Staycations
The wedding market provides a significant income stream for hotels, often representing up to 35 per cent of total turnover.
There are currently 3,702 weddings booked in hotels up until the end of July 2021.
Many couples who were to marry last year have moved into summer 2021 and the concern is that with restricted attendance numbers they will cancel or simply move to a smaller venue.
“Our last wedding was in December 2020 prior to the latest lockdown,” explained the hotel marketing manager.
“There are weddings still hoping for May and June this year and it is a waiting game to see if hospitality will be opened to allow them to take place.
“We will be definitely be hoping to maximise our staycation offers.
“We are renowned for our service and quality throughout the local area and are excited to be able to promote our staycation packages when we reopen.
“People are looking at local hotels where there is a great atmosphere and to relax and with our swimming pool and spa, there is nowhere like the Canal Court hotel.
“Moreover, guest safety is paramount particularly in the current climate, and guests are looking for that reassurance and booking reliable, well renowned hospitality accommodation, which is why the Canal Court hotel will prove a successful destination and would be fantastic for the local area,” added Ms Hayes.