Hotels Feel The Pressure As Covid-19 Takes Hold

The collapse of Flybe is just the latest blow to Northern Ireland's hotel sector as it battles against the coronavirus, a representative body has said.

Fourteen flight paths were cut from George Best Belfast City Airport overnight on Wednesday as the airline collapsed into administration in a worrying development for local jobs and air connectivity.

The coronavirus outbreak is continuing to take hold across the UK, with 90 cases now confirmed, three of which are in Northern Ireland.

Janice Gault of the NI Hotels Federation (NIHF) said the uncertainty around travel is contributing to the pressure facing the local industry, with tourism officials keen to see business protected in the short term.

The NIHF will unite with the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance to seek Government support for the sector, which is integral to the local economy as a growing £1 billion industry.

The NIHF CEO said: "After a challenging 2019, nobody was under any illusion about the difficulties that the hotel sector was going to face in 2020. The start of the year brought the unwelcome news of a 6.2% rise in the national minimum wage, well ahead of inflation and a significant rise in business rates. Brexit weighed heavily on the sector with concerns about access to staff and the visitor welcome. Costs have long been an area of concern and the NIHF along with partners in the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance (NITA) will be outlining them to government at all levels and seeking support for the sector.

"In addition to relief on cost, we will also be pressing for a campaign on staycations, and support for the sector for the remainder of the year by way of promotion in overseas markets. Interestingly, the demand for rooms has grown over the last year and we hope that this will be the norm once the current exceptional circumstances have been addressed."
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While it's an uncertain time for the travel industry, Ms Gault expressed hope that our hotel sector will overcome the challenges of coronavirus and "bounce back" to contribute to the local economy.

"It is important to note that the sector has invested heavily over the last decade and has weathered storms before," she continued. "We are confident that the entire industry can bounce back from recent knock backs and continue to contribute much to the Northern Ireland economy. We simply need support to ensure that we can continue to trade and additional promotion to increase business once the situation improves."

Negotiations are underway to secure new deals to replace the business brought by Flybe to Belfast City Airport, which made up for 80% of scheduled flights.

Chief Executive Brian Ambrose said he is confident the operations can be rebuilt.

CEO of Belfast Chamber Simon Hamilton expressed regret at the "devastating" blow for Northern Ireland and demanded Government support to secure new deals.

"I know that the team at Belfast City Airport will work hard to find new airlines for these key routes and Belfast Chamber urges Government at all levels to support them to ensure that our connectivity, which is so important to business and especially tourism in our city, isn't harmed by the unfortunate collapse of FlyBe."

Economy Minister Diane Dodds expressed regret at the immediate impact to be felt by local employees and passengers.

She said: "Maintaining air connectivity is absolutely vital to Northern Ireland – to enable access to the economic market in Great Britain and for tourists arriving to our airports from Great Britain and beyond.

"My department will work closely with DfT to assist, as required, with the repatriation of Northern Ireland passengers."

Mrs Dodds said she will continue to press government on the importance of regional connectivity with the UK.

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