The evolving Coronavirus crisis and the spread of Covid-19 has begun to impact on Northern Ireland’s hospitality and tourism sectors.
As of today (March 13), 20 cases of the virus have been confirmed here while 596 people are known to be infected across the UK as a whole.
And while the government continues to adopt a light touch in terms of official intervention aimed at controlling the spread of the disease, organisers of many major events have taken the decision to postpone until later in the year.
One of the biggest casualties in hospitality is IFEX 2020, which was to have taken place in Belfast from March 24 to 26. This event, which is NI’s premier showcase for hospitality and retail, has now been pushed back to November 17 – 19.
Damion Angus, group managing director of organisers, Montgomery Group, told LCN that safeguarding the health of all stakeholders was a priority:
‘ We’ve made this decision in consultation with our major exhibitors and other event partners and believe that postponing IFEX is the responsible decision, taken as a precautionary measure,’ he added.
Another early victim of the pandemic has been Taste of Tourism event, which was to have taken place at the Culloden Estate & Spa at the end of this month. That gathering, which involved workshops and lectures from a variety of high profile, food-related guests, including Michelin-starred chef, Michael Wignall, has not been rescheduled at this stage.
Janice Gault, from organiser, the NI Hotels Federation, said that the decision to postpone the event had been taken ‘regretfully’ following a review of the situation.
St. Patrick’s Day parades are also falling victim to the virus, among them, the big carnival and concert planned for Belfast on March 17, which has been axed.
Reacting to the worsening situation, trade body, Hospitality Ulster, has established an Industry Response Group to monitor and support the sector during the crisis. Chaired by Brian Murphy of BDO NI, the body will include representatives from Tourism NI; industry legal specialists, MTB and others from the hospitality sector.
The Industry Response Group will monitor the financial impact of the developing pandemic and identify those places where practical support is required in order to alleviate any financial or operational pressures that might arise.
The first meeting of this group took place on March 10 when it was agreed to, among other things, to seek the abolition of domestic air passenger duty for NI and a cut in VAT for hospitality businesses. The group is also asking that more time be afforded to businesses in the sector to pay taxes and a shift in the rates calendar from March to June.’
Brian Murphy said:
‘We are bringing forward a range of real and practical measures that could be implemented straight away to ensure that the sector and the economy can weather this current storm, which is worsening by the day. We want to preserve and ensure the ongoing livelihoods of everyone in the hospitality sector.’