Looking towards the future

Posted 02 Jul, 2020

Our CEO Dr Joanne Stuart OBE examines what a difference a month makes for the tourism industry.

"Tourism is now starting to welcome visitors for the first time in over three months today, thanks to the Minister for the Economy, who has been a champion for the industry.

The relief from tourism businesses is palpable and they have been busy in preparing to ensure that their premises are safe for staff and visitors alike. We know from consumer sentiment research, carried out by Failte Ireland and Tourism NI, that reassurance on safety through visible actions as well as underpinning policies are critical - clear, visible implementation of hygiene measures and social distancing enforcement are the key actions that would make NI consumers feel most comfortable. To support businesses, ccomprehensive guidance has been provided and the introduction of an Industry Standard ‘We’re Good to Go’ across all regions of the UK means that visitors can have confidence that they will have a safe and enjoyable experience.

The last piece of the jigsaw in reopening was the reduction of social distancing from 2 meters to 1 metre. This has been welcomed by the industry and gives businesses more of a chance to be financially viable. The support from the Department of Communities and Councils on use of the public realm have provided an opportunity for businesses to utilise outdoor space and both measures will enable businesses to provide a safe and quality service to more visitors.

Research carried out by Tourism NI found that not having anything to do outside of accommodation was a concern to consumers. This has been removed by the approach of the NI Executive to open up the majority of the tourism industry together ensuring that visitors have more to do and more reasons to stay overnight.

It is critical to the survival of businesses over the winter period that the industry is able to maximise the rest of the 2020 season and this requires exciting marketing campaigns that reassure and encourage our local visitors to support the local tourism industry by booking holidays at home and attract visitors from the RoI and GB to holiday in Northern Ireland. Tourism NI are due to launch their ‘A Small Step to A Giant Adventure’ campaign across the Island and Tourism Ireland are launching a NI specific campaign into GB from early July.

But it is not all positive and there are still challenges to overcome. We recently carried out a survey of our members, and almost 50% believe it will take 2-3 years for their businesses to recover back to pre-Covid19 levels. There is a swathe of businesses that have been unable to access any financial support especially small accommodation and experience providers who are an important part of the tourism mix. Outside of Belfast, B&Bs and self-catering are critical to providing a range of accommodation options for visitors and already we are hearing of businesses that have had to close.

Business models for a lot of tourism businesses don’t stack up with the loss of visitors from European and International destinations therefore difficult decisions have had to be taken regarding staffing levels. However, with the removal of the 14 Day Quarantine on the horizon in place in both UK and RoI there will be opportunity for international visitors in the future.

The industry still needs to get a reopening date for business tourism such as conferencing and exhibitions. This has been a growth area for the tourism industry, providing room nights and hospitality spend. We have seen the likes of ICC Belfast introduce innovative hybrid options which are a great way of attracting clients and then retaining for future conferences in Belfast. Conferences, events and banqueting are just as important for Hotels and attractions who are reliant on the income this side of the business generates.

From our survey, over 80% responded that the development of a plan to rebuild Tourism was critical. The work and need for support continues and an important outcome from the Tourism Recovery Steering Group, established by the Minister, which NITA are part of, will be the development of a plan with the resources to implement.

However, as our tourism businesses throw open their doors, it’s more important than ever that we must get out and support our local businesses by holidaying at home this year. Not only will you have an amazing experience and discover our local gems on your doorstep, but you will be helping local businesses and protecting jobs across Northern Ireland.

Tourism will come back stronger in 2021 and will continue to be a key economic driver for Northern Ireland."