Northern Ireland tourism output 'likely' to drop from £1 billion to £400 million

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By Rebecca Black, PA

The money generated by tourism in Northern Ireland is likely to drop from £1 billion last year to £400 million in 2020, a Stormont committee has heard.

Janice Gault of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation said around 50% of hotels reopened over the weekend following the latest relaxation of lockdown rules.

She said strong performances in food and drink sales were reported, but lower levels of room occupancy.

"It looks like around 50% of hotels opened over the weekend, the majority of them will open in the month of July with everybody intending to be open by the end of the summer," she told the committee.

"It's probably around 30%-40% occupancy, food and beverage very strong and quite a number of our normal income streams cut off. Business tourism will be low, low international visitors probably over the summer.

"In the medium term, we would hope to get the GB market back and there is a certain amount of activity in that.

"For us, we see the really difficult time of trading is going to be from September through to next March."

She described "breaking the billion-pound mark" in tourism spending last year, but said businesses were expecting £400 million this year, "if we're lucky".

"We are prepared to give it a go, I think everyone has risen to that challenge," she said.

"We have weddings starting this weekend.

"But in reality it's a question of what will happen next year, and I think it is a question of what parts of the industry can we ensure survive to go forward and make sure we return to the very vibrant industry that we were."

Joanne Stuart of the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance told the committee it is "critical to the survival of businesses over the winter period" that they can maximise the rest of this year's season.

"With schools starting in August that season could be quite a bit shorter than expected," she said.

"This will require marketing campaigns that reassure and encourage our local visitors to support the local tourism industry by booking holidays at home.

"We also need to attract visitors from the Republic and GB to consider Northern Ireland as a destination.

"What we now need to see is communication from our political leaders to encourage people to stay local and support local businesses this year."

She added businesses believe it will take at least two to three years to recover from lockdown.

Ciaran O'Neill, managing director of the Bishop's Gate Hotel in Londonderry, told the committee it had a "very strong" first weekend in terms of food and beverage, but slower in terms of rooms with 40%-50% occupancy.

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