Tourism and Travel Post-Covid in Northern Ireland

Credit: Courtesy of Far and Wild eco-adventure company

Few industries have been affected more by the impact of Covid-19 than tourism and hospitality. Cancelled holidays and travel plans, and the shutting down of businesses have led to mass redundancies and furloughing, even in areas of Ireland you wouldn’t first think of. 

In Northern Ireland, tourism accounted for one in every 15 jobs, and contributed £2 billion to its economy. Some chilling statistics for the economic health of the six counties. 

However, as lockdown eases, businesses reopen, and initiatives are launched to help the suffering industry, more questions are raised at the prospect of travel during a pandemic. 

How is, and will, the tourism and hospitality industry in Northern Ireland fare in these unpredictable times? How is the tourism sector going to change? And who is travelling this summer!? 

We spoke to Tourism NI, for some well needed clarification and explanations; can we dare to be hopeful about the future of Northern Ireland’s tourism industry after the devastation of Covid-19? 

How has the tourism sector in Northern Ireland been reopened? What came first, and what is yet to come? How has the reopening process been in these times of Covid-19?

“It was announced by the NI Executive that the tourism and hospitality sector in Northern Ireland was able to reopen from 3rd July with the help of our Economy Minister, Diane Dodds who played a huge role in bringing this reopening date forward. This includes hotels, cafes, restaurants, pubs and visitor attractions. Self-catering accommodation such as Caravan parks were permitted to reopen from 26th June.

Considerable work has gone into ensuring the safety of guests in line with social distancing measures so that the one-metre social distancing protocols can be observed without reducing the overall experience. We released our reopening guidelines on 23rd June in partnership with the Department for the Economy in NI to help guide our industry in opening their doors safely.

Reopening at the beginning was slow for some which was expected however many businesses have seen an increase in bookings. The ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme which launched this week will play a huge part in boosting the hospitality industry.”

“76% of our tourism spend came from the Isle of Ireland and the UK last year so we have generally been less dependent on long haul markets which creates an advantage.”

Who are your tourists/customers in these times? Those from the UK? The Republic? Overseas? Local?  – and what demographic are you focusing on attracting, and why? 

“On the 1st July, we launched the first phase of our recovery campaign in NI and RoI to inspire people here to enjoy a staycation at home, in a destination which attracts tourists from around the globe each year.  Our campaign has a strong emphasis on attracting younger people and young families (24-40 age group) as our research shows that they’re the ones most likely to be travelling this summer.

Prior to Covid-19 it was already important to encourage our resident population to take more short breaks at home as well as secure greater visitor numbers and spend from the Republic of Ireland. 76% of our tourism spend came from the Isle of Ireland and the UK last year so we have generally been less dependent on long haul markets which creates an advantage.”

“As the global tourism industry resets, the assumptions that previously informed business models no longer apply and every tourism destination is effectively in start-up mode.”

What are the challenges tourism based businesses have faced when coming out of lockdown in Northern Ireland? Which businesses are most at risk?

“On the road to recovery it’s no secret that there are many challenges that lie ahead for our sector. Job losses are inevitable across the industry – some businesses will not survive this crisis and that’s unfortunately the reality. Jobs will be lost in the coming weeks and months especially as the UK government’s job support measures start to be withdrawn. We have to be ready and try to save as many jobs and livelihood as we possibly can.

While the challenges are no doubt daunting, crisis can bring opportunity. As the global tourism industry resets, the assumptions that previously informed business models no longer apply and every tourism destination is effectively in start-up mode. This can allow us to re-shape ourselves in a way that brings greatest benefit to local communities.”

“Businesses are likely to have a greater focus on sustainability. Smaller groups are likely to seek out authentic experiences that allow the visitor to connect with the landscape and local communities. Smaller cities and rural destinations may well replace the demand for large and densely populated destinations. Given our resilience, Northern Ireland is well placed to respond to those consumer demands.”

What are your predictions and hopes going forward for tourism in Northern Ireland further down the line? What do you hope/intend to do in the event of a second wave in Autumn?

“The tourism industry has suffered from the effects of the lockdown and as we move into a period of recovery we are sending a very clear message that your favorite places, as well as those yet to be discovered, will benefit greatly from local support.

This is the perfect opportunity for our domestic market to explore all that is great about Northern Ireland. You can stay local while getting away from it all on new, immersive adventures and in doing so you will be supporting an industry that is vital to our economy and to everyone here.”

“Given our resilience, Northern Ireland is well placed to respond to those consumer demands.”

Our Government is closely monitoring the rate of transmission of the Coronavirus in Northern Ireland. As we start to recover it’s important that our industry is cautious and continue to follow Government health and safety guidelines in place.”

About the author

Emily Booth

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