A major hotel operator has reported “a jump” in enquiries following confirmation by Northern Ireland’s Minister for the Economy Diane Dodds that the industry can reopen its doors from July 20th.
Howard Hastings, managing director of Hastings Hotels, which has a 50 per cent stake in the Merrion Hotel in Dublin and owns seven hotels in total, said the company would now move to draw tourists from the Republic to the North.
“People on the island of Ireland spend £4 billion (€4.5bn) annually on overseas summer holidays and we are delighted to have the opportunity that now exists to persuade them to try somewhere new, at home,” he said.
“Surveys suggest that there are 2.5 million people in the Republic of Ireland who have never spent a night in Northern Ireland. We will be working with Tourism Northern Ireland to persuade these people to visit for the first time, and to persuade others to return.
“The Executive’s decision to reopen hotels on July 20th, announced by economy minister Diane Dodds, has unlocked that opportunity. As a result, our enquiry level has already jumped.”
Mr Hastings added that hotels would need time to implement social distancing measures, but could not provide any further detail as to what this might involve.
“This allows time for families to make their holiday plans with confidence this summer,” he said. “It also allows hotels time to prepare for guests and at the same time comply with the social distancing and additional hygiene regulations that will be required.
“There has never been a better time. There will be no queues at visitor attractions, and the hotels that do open will in all likelihood not open all their bedrooms to comply with regulations.
“We are aware that this season will be unlike any other. With so few flights coming to Ireland from Great Britain and overseas, there will not be the usual influx of visitors on escorted coaches.
“We will not see cruise liners in Belfast Lough, and we cannot expect the conferences, concerts and sporting events which generate so many room nights in a normal year.”