Tourism summit looks to reinvigorate beleaguered industry

Tourism summit looks to reinvigorate beleaguered industry

Call for more supports to help boost recovery

Northern Ireland’s hotel industry is “keen to keen to play a positive role in the restoration of the local economy” but needs support and fewer restrictions going forward.

Speaking ahead of The Tourism Summit, the Road to Recovery, Janice Gault, the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, said: “Our members are keen to open. However, after three lockdowns they are hesitant to do so while the threat of a further lockdown hangs over them.

“Reopening must occur in a sustainable manner and within a viable framework.

“Dealing with the health crisis has been the number one priority and the roll out of the vaccine, along with a fall in the R number, is welcome news. There is a recognition that we are not out of the woods yet and that reopening will be a gradual process.

‘Viable framework’

“The need for a viable framework within which the industry can trade is an essential element of reopening. As a well-regulated sector which has shown the ability to operate safely, the Federation will be calling on the Executive to remove the curfew.  This is a restriction that has little effect on the spread of the virus but has significant impact on the viability of trading.”

Janice, above, added: “Other asks will include promotional activity to restore confidence and stimulate trade, a planned review of regulation and exploring mitigations to prevent further lockdowns.

“At this juncture, the light at the end of the tunnel may only be flickering. In the coming weeks, we hope it will start to guide us towards reopening and better times. Hotels will await further news on the pathway to recovery and are keen to play a positive role in the restoration of the local economy”.

Despite the Northern Ireland Executive not setting any indicative dates for the reopening of the hospitality industry here, The Tourism Summit will focus on how it hopes to do so, the impact of the pandemic and measures required to keep tourism infrastructure intact.

Stephen Meldrum, President of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, said: “During the event, there will be political and economic insight from experts and updates from the tourism agencies.  The varied panel of speakers will also provide an overview of the global picture, consider factors that are likely to influence consumer psyche, and examine how businesses are tailoring their brand offering.”

The summit will be hosted by the BBC’s Mark Simpson and after a welcome address by Economy Minister Diane Dodds, other speakers include travel journalist Simon Calder, above, Prof Rob Kwortnik from Cornell University and TripAdvisor’s Justin Reid.

There is economic commentary from Gareth Hetherington, forecasting by Sarah Duignan and insights from hotelier Frankie Whelehan. The full line-up is:

  • 9.30  Welcome by BBC’s Mark Simpson
  • 9.35  Opening address by Economy Minister Diane Dodds
  • 9.40  Gareth Hetherington of Ulster University’s Economic Policy Centre on the financial picture
  • 10.00  Neil Aulton, Head of Strategy and Insights at Tourism Ireland, on the consumer psyche
  • 10.20 Naomi Waite Tourism Northern Ireland – Embracing out giant spirit
  • 10.40 Hotel Insights from Sarah Duignan of STR
  • 11.30 Destination Marketing’s Justin Reid
  • 11.50  Success and Survival – Cork hotelier Frankie Whelehan
  • 12.10  Reawakening Business – Prof Robert Kwortnik  
  • 12.40  Globetrotting – Travel journalist Simon Calder

Both tourist boards will also be on hand to look at rebuilding the market and the panel features hotelier Richard Collins from Marriott AbuDhabi and Brenda Morgan from NITA.

The Tourism Summit comes hot on the heels of the  Northern Ireland Hotels Federation launching its own Return To Trading plan, which spelled out key initiatives for tourism, including stimulation of the home markets.

Sarah Duignan, STR’s director of client relationships

Janice Gault said: “The plan outlines a number of key initiatives for tourism including stimulation of the home markets, the holiday at home voucher, as well as supporting the product and experience development.

“One of the key plans is the creation of a sustainable and Regenerative Tourism Strategy which will help the industry return to trading and assist with business restoration. The Federation looks forward to seeing the realisation of plans and working with other key stakeholders to create a better climate for tourism businesses.

‘Consumer confidence’

“Having reached a £1bn spend in 2019, the industry is keen to return to trading and is keen to contribute in a positive manner in the coming year.”

On the Tourism Summit itself, NIHF President Stephen Meldrum added: “We’ve had a number of milestones in the last few weeks, including the publication the NI Executive’s pathway document and the budget.

“The Federation has staged this event to put a spotlight on the future, give some insights into how we can unlock successfully and what support the sector will require. Hotels are at the centre of the tourism economy but require the wider economy to unlock as well and for consumer confidence to be restored.

“We hope that the Summit’s programme has a wide appeal, the event will cover a range of matters which underpin the hospitality and tourism sectors. There are a number of international speakers and it will be good to hear about destinations that are on a different trajectory from Northern Ireland.

“The current lockdown has been very challenging, but the stoic nature of the industry has come to the fore. It is important that we highlight the opportunity and potential of the industry once easement becomes a reality.”

The Tourism Summit is supported by Tourism Northern Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Invest Northern Ireland, Coca-Cola, Calor, Henderson Foodservice, Ards & North Down Borough Council, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, Belfast City Council, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Mid Ulster District Council and NewryMourne and Down District Council. Local trade publications, Hospitality Review and Licensed Catering News, have also lent their support.

The Tourism Summit, The Road to Recovery takes place on 9 March 2021 with full details available at