by Michael McHugh, PA
Northern Ireland's hotels can reopen from July 20 as long as the rate of infection is under control, Stormont economy minister Diane Dodds said.
The industry has been devastated by a shutdown forced by the coronavirus pandemic in March.
Mrs Dodds said: "Covid-19 has presented an unprecedented challenge for our tourism industry, as it has for tourism markets around the world.
"I believe the time is right to provide the tourist accommodation sector with clarity about opening dates.
"I want to build upon the positive progress in managing the spread of the virus and begin to reopen our tourism industry in a safe and managed way."
Economy Minister @DianeDoddsMLA visited the Culloden Hotel in Co.Down earlier to announce hotels in NI can reopen from the 20th July.— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) June 1, 2020
She says it allows hotels to “bring staff off furlough, to start getting social distancing measures in place”.@RBlackPA video pic.twitter.com/M7oPOfzDAN
The July 20 date covers guesthouses, guest accommodation, B&Bs, hotels and hostels.
A tourism steering group will be asked to work with the sector to explore what facilities and amenities can safely be made available by hotels and recommendations will be brought to the Executive in due course.
Holiday and home parks, caravan sites and self-catering properties are also covered by the July 20 date.
(Economy Minister, Diane Dodds addressing a recent Stormont press conference)
Mrs Dodds said: "As they are self-contained and may require less advance notice before opening, the opening times for these types of accommodation may be advanced to earlier than July 20 depending on scientific advice."
Northern Ireland Hotels Federation chief executive Janice Gault said it was a welcome move.
She added: "This is a step forward for the industry and the federation has been working closely with industry colleagues to ensure that businesses can open in a safe and secure manner.
"There is more work to be done around the details of opening.
"We will continue to work in a collaborative manner so that the visitor economy, including the hotel sector, can return to business and help restore the Northern Ireland economy.
"The safety of our staff and guests will be paramount in this process.
"Having an agreed date will help us to plan, promote and give businesses the opportunity to assess their viability."
Meanwhile, Hospitality Ulster has welcomed the announcement that hotels and tourism accommodation in Northern Ireland will be able to reopen from 20th July.
However, CEO Colin Neill has also stressed the need for a wider industry reopening date.
He said, “It goes without saying that today’s announcement is welcome news for our hotels, not to mention another step on the road to responsibly adapting to a ‘new normal’ in a post COVID-19 society.
“Whilst we welcome today’s announcement, the fact remains that both the bars and restaurants in hotels and our pubs and restaurants are still without a reopening date.
“We believe all businesses should be reopened based on safety, not what they sell. The Hospitality Industry in Northern Ireland is continuing to plan and prepare exhaustive measures to ensure the welfare of their staff, customers and the wider community above all else.
“The Northern Ireland hospitality industry was already diligent, safety driven and socially responsible long before COVID-19, and should not be judged on memories of what came before, but rather the safe working plans for a new way of doing business.
“As we await the full details with regard to the hotels opening, we once again call on the NI Executive to build on today’s announcement by giving the rest of our hospitality businesses a date to work towards.”