Economy Minister Diane Dodds today announced the establishment of a Tourism Recovery Steering Group to lead the planning and preparations for the recovery of tourism in Northern Ireland.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism and hospitality industry employed 65,000 people and generated £1 billion in revenue in 2019. The closing of borders and air routes, and the lockdown of entire regions, has resulted in a total loss of demand in tourism markets around the world.
The crisis is exacerbated by the seasonal nature of the NI tourism offer as 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.
The Minister said: “The UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive have made major and decisive financial interventions to help support the Northern Ireland economy, including our tourism industry, through the devastating impact of COVID-19.
“However, I am very conscious of the importance of planning ahead and of the need to develop plans for recovery which can be implemented in the future.
“In the past twenty-four hours I have spoken to the Tourism Ministers in England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland and I will continue to lobby on behalf of the tourism industry.
“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.”
Financial support currently 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 with a rateable value between £15,001 and £51,000. Applications to that scheme opened on Monday.
The Minister continued: “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.
“The work of the Tourism Recovery Steering Group will be of critical importance. I and my department will provide all the support we can for this much-needed initiative.”
The Minister will lead the steering group which will include representation from key public and private industry stakeholders. Their work will be supported by a working group chaired by the chief executive of Tourism Northern Ireland John McGrillen.
As a range of other departments have a role in tourism, the Minister is writing to her Executive colleagues to invite them to nominate officials to participate in the steering group.