On what would have been the start of the summer season, tourism businesses are desperately trying to keep afloat while the Minister for the Economy has just announced that applications for the £25K grant will not be paid for another 25 days.
“We are now pleading with banks and other financial institutions to work with the industry as they wait to submit business critical applications,” explains Joanne Stuart, Chief Executive of NITA. “Jobs are being shed now, cancellations have already happened, business are ready to close now. The Assembly needs to make interim payments now if these businesses and jobs are to survive.”
“Whilst the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was welcomed by many tourism businesses, the fact that the furlough scheme has not gone live yet means that businesses are incurring upfront staffing costs which it was anticipated that the grants would have supported.
“This meant we would have had an interim cash flow that would have plugged the gap until the Furlough scheme went live, however as the grants have not been distributed businesses may not be able to survive until the end of April much less start making grant applications,” she pointed out.
Tourism businesses have been at the forefront of the catastrophic economic impact of Covid-19 and with income dropping to zero within a matter of weeks and no alternatives to generating income.
Tourism effectively came to a stop in early March with a surge of cancellations due to the escalation of the COVID-19 into Europe with businesses closing almost 4 weeks ago. Unlike any other part of the economy, Tourism businesses were hit at the end of the quietest part of the tourism calendar with reserves and cash flow at a minimum. Investments had been made in preparation for what was predicted to be one of our best years following the success of The Open and the launch of the new brand – Northern Ireland Embrace a Giant Spirit. Tourism accounts for almost 10% of jobs in our economy and generated in excess of £1bn in visitor spend in 2019 across our region bringing jobs, visitor spend and much needed investment to many rural and coastal communities.
If the challenge of getting cash to businesses is not addressed as an immediate priority, we will lose many good tourism businesses and thousands of jobs before the end of this crisis.
We acknowledge that the Economy Minster also announced yesterday that £40million has been made available for those not covered by the previously announced grants but if that funding is not distributed with immediate effect it will not be in time to save tourism businesses.
The Tourism Industry will be an important part of our economic recovery once we start to see restrictions lifted and the impact of the virus receding. We need to ensure tourism businesses survive through these unprecedented circumstances and be in a position to provide a future for staff and deliver for the economy.