03 Jun 2020

Statement by John McGrillen Tourism NI Chief Executive

Northern Ireland Executive Press Conference.

Thank you Minister for the opportunity to say a few words about the tourism industry today.

Tourism has been one of Northern Ireland’s economic success stories of recent years. In 2019 we had just experienced our seventh year of continuous growth with tourists spending in excess of one billion pounds and providing employment to over 65,000 people. The huge success of a record breaking Open Championship just 11 months ago brought with it a not unrealistic expectation that tourism here would continue on its upward trajectory as we entered a new decade.

That confidence was shared by the private sector who have in recent years invested heavily in new hotels, visitor facilities, restaurants and transport vehicles to ferry our visitors to every part of Northern Ireland.

That growth however came to a shuddering halt in early March as the Coronavirus made its way across the globe at incredible speed. As governments across the world moved to protect the health of their citizens from the devastating consequences of COVID-19 the global tourism industry essentially closed down.

Whilst this is first and foremost a health crisis it has also had devastating consequences for our tourism businesses, most of whom who have no customers or any source of income since mid March. Those businesses greatly appreciate the support they have received from both Government and the Executive through interventions such as the Job Retention Scheme, Grants and the recent decision to suspend rates payments for 12 months for the retail, tourism and hospitality sectors.

They also appreciate your personal commitment Minister through the creation of the Tourism Recovery Taskforce.

The only way for these businesses to survive however in the longer term, and save as many of those 65,000 jobs as possible, is to be able to open their doors and welcome visitors back onto their premises during the summer season where they normally generate over 70% of their annual income.

But this can only be done if we, as a society, control the rate of transmission of the virus. And, as the Minister has just said, that is why it is so for everyone to continue to follow the public health advice.

We very much welcome the first tentative steps towards the re-opening of the tourism industry with the Executive’s decision earlier this week to permit hotels and other forms of accommodation to open from 20 July.

Tourism is however an interdependent ecosystem. For those hotels to be successful they will require visitor attractions, restaurants and other tourism facilities to be open. People won’t go on holiday without things to see or do. Our focus therefore has to turn to creating a roadmap for opening up the rest of our industry.

Through the Tourism Recovery Working Group we are working with all parts of the industry to identify measures and modifications needed to be put into place to ensure facilities can open safely for both employees and costumers alike. The success of the tourism and hospitality sectors has been, and always will be, dependent on the consumer being confident that they remain safe and secure on their premises.

Much work has already been done by organisations such as Hospitality Ulster, the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation and many others in developing the guidance necessary to convince public health officials and consumers alike that they will be able to safely enjoy access to their facilities, hopefully in very near future.

The survival of many businesses in the sector will depend heavily on their ability to secure much needed income over the coming summer and autumn months. We at Tourism NI will be ready to run with a major marketing campaign - once it is safe to open up the rest of our industry.

We know however that this summer we simply will not have the air connectivity to allow us to welcome visitors from overseas. Our local tourism businesses, and the jobs of the people who work within them will be really dependent on that “giant spirit” which local people have shown in abundance over the past three months.

We have a fabulous tourism product here in Northern Ireland. That is why almost three million people have here come to visit us every year. They will do so again, but this year we need your help. Follow the guidance so we can holiday safely at home. Let’s support local businesses and let’s protect local jobs.

You can view the video from the Northern Ireland Executive by clicking here.