Around 3,000 tourism companies could go out of business due to COVID-19

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Right - Colin Neill, Chief Exec Hospitality Ulster following meeting with First Minister and Deputy First Minister

By Michael McHugh, PA and Q Radio News

Around 3,000 tourism companies could go out of business during a recession caused by Covid-19, Stormont's economy minister warned.

Bookings via one popular hotels website have fallen 80% and the landmark Titanic Belfast visitor centre has seen visitor numbers halve.

Minister Diane Dodds said the industry was bearing the brunt of the impact in Northern Ireland.

She added: "Industry estimates 3,000 tourism businesses that may not survive in the long term without immediate help in the sector."

Meanwhile, bar owners in Northern Ireland face imminent "catastrophe" because of the infection, publicans' representatives said.

Financial support must be given to businesses which are forced to close, Colin Neill from Hospitality Ulster said.

He met Stormont first minister Arlene Foster and deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill on Monday.

Mr Neill said: "The meeting was constructive and they are fully aware that the sector is facing catastrophe in the coming days and weeks.

"There is no doubt that they, and the wider Executive, understand just how grave this situation is, and that we simply don't have time to see how things might pan out."

The industry body chief executive said there was "unilateral" agreement that protecting staff was of paramount importance.

He added: "We have made it clear that if there is any decision by the government to close businesses in the hospitality sector, that it must be done with a financial package that allows our staff to put food on their tables and that they have jobs to return to.

"As a sector, we continue to play a responsible role and will ensure that we adhere to all government guidance and public health authority advice."

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