New group to lead the recovery of NI tourism

Economy Minister Diane Dodds is to head a group leading the recovery of tourism in Northern Ireland.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the industry employed 65,000 people, generating £1 billion in 2019.

The closing of borders and air routes and the lockdown of entire regions has resulted in a total loss of demand in markets around the world.

Mrs Dodds said: “I believe the time is now right to establish a Tourism Recovery Steering Group.

“Given the scale and complexity of the challenges, government and industry need to work together to design and deliver a Northern Ireland tourism recovery plan.

“I look forward to working with key stakeholders in the tourism industry to facilitate the recovery of this very important sector.”

The infection crisis is exacerbated by the seasonal nature of the tourism offer, the minister said.

It comes at the end of the low season when businesses’ cash reserves are at their lowest and the spring and summer seasons, in which the sector does 70% of its business, have effectively been lost.

Mrs Dodds said she was very conscious of the importance of planning ahead and of the need to develop plans for recovery which can be implemented in the future.

Joanne Stuart, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance, said the industry had shown the resilience to come through 30 years of violence and could rebound again.

“There are still going to be requirements for physical distancing and health and safety, both from a staff perspective and to give visitors confidence that they are in a safe environment.”

She said the continued restrictions in areas like public transport posed challenges for group travel.

“We will need some additional support in the long-term and we hope that part of this recovery steering group will be able to put forward recommendations for what that looks like.”

Financial support available includes £10,000 small business grants and grants of £25,000 are also being provided to around 4,000 companies in Northern Ireland in the retail, tourism, leisure and hospitality sectors.

The minister added: “Once current restrictions begin to lift, and the impact of the virus begins to recede, Northern Ireland’s tourism sector will have an important role to play in our economic recovery.

“The impact the current crisis will have on the global tourism industry will be profound and the nature of tourism markets, and indeed the industry itself, will be fundamentally different to that which existed before the crisis.

“While I do not underestimate the many challenges and uncertainties that the weeks and months ahead will bring, I believe the time is now right to put in place the structures that will help support recovery and prepare the industry to respond when consumer demand ultimately returns.”