Northern Ireland hotels are facing a wedding nightmare thanks to a backlog of more than 3,700 weddings.

Receptions booked in pubs in the area could generate economy-saving income for pressurized venues, but only if they get the green light to open, the bosses say.

The figure came when Economy Secretary Diane Dodds warned about government bailouts “that can’t last indefinitely” and “the best way to help businesses is to get them back on track”.

Hotel owners fear that couples waiting to tie the knot will cancel their late wedding and move to smaller venues if they don’t get a final date for their grand celebrations soon.

Stephen Meldrum, President of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, said the “wedding market is a significant source of revenue for the hotel market, which often accounts for up to 35% of total sales”.

He added: “By the end of July 2021, there are currently 3,702 weddings booked in hotels. Many couples who were supposed to get married last year moved into the summer of 2021, and there are concerns that with limited attendance they will cancel or simply move to a smaller venue. Currently, hotels are also banned from hosting wedding shows, which only makes an already tense situation worse.

“Weddings with receptions were allowed to take place from July 3, 2020 with risk assessments. There was a guide that was a requirement for holding weddings during any permitted opening. Receptions are currently not permitted.

“The new path indicated that receptions would return more slowly with a limit on number if their ban is lifted. Three-quarters of those who host weddings don’t think they can do it. A number have also indicated that without restoring risk assessment to the wedding market, the profitability of your entire operation is questionable. “

Strict rules in place in the region since December have been eased slightly, but most businesses remain closed.

Diane Dodds said a number of economic sectors had been “badly hit” by the coronavirus pandemic, noting that the hotel sector was more than 3,000 weddings backlog.

The executive will meet on Thursday to discuss further easing with hints that reopening dates for various sectors may be announced.

When asked at Tuesday’s congregation whether she is planning additional business support programs, Ms. Dodds said the best thing would be for businesses to reopen as soon as possible.

“While grant support has been a lifeline for many businesses, it can’t last indefinitely. The best way to support businesses is to get them back up and running,” she told MLAs.

“I believe that businesses should reopen safely as soon as possible.

“You need the ability to plan and that is absolutely important.

“We will of course continue to support and maintain the business, but reopening is key to making the economy work.

“A lot of these companies, especially retailers, really need to see this date, they need to see this schedule … a lot of them won’t be in stock until the spring.”

When asked what the reasons were against reopening the company, Ms. Dodds replied, “I don’t want to pre-empt a discussion about management or the business of management, but our community here in Northern Ireland has suffered tremendously from Covid. Of course there is a lot of nervousness, but we have a huge vaccine rollout program, we have transmission rates that are now very low, and we can’t lock people up in their homes. “

Ms. Dodds released an action plan for economic recovery in February, but warned that the recovery would not be completed in a year alone.

The minister said, following a survey by the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, that hoteliers need an average of 17 days to reopen and have jobs for more than 2,500 people to hire before they reopen.

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They say there are currently 143 hotels with 9,580 rooms that have been certified by Tourism Northern Ireland. Companies are currently in their third lockdown.

Janice Gault, CEO of NIHF, said: “Through March 31, 2021, hotels will be closed for 96 consecutive days with no indicative dates for reopening. This is the longest embargo since the outbreak of the pandemic. Trading last year was a challenge with just 120 trading days, 38 of them with curfew.

“As society moves towards reopening, the pressure on the sector remains high. The federation interviewed its members to rate their thoughts on the reopening process. The biggest problem is the occupation of most properties, which indicates a need for recruitment. While not all have been able to provide unambiguous numbers, the data collected suggest that the hotel sector will need to hire more than 2,500 people before reopening. This is not a short process as employees need to be selected, interviewed and trained.

“Consumer sentiment shows that there is considerable demand for overnight stays, with hotels remaining the most popular option. However, without an opening date, it is impossible to initiate a recruiting process and there is a real risk that hotels that open under the stress of poor staffing will not be able to and will not be able to meet customer needs to their full potential of stays. “

NIHF President Stephen Meldrum added, “Staff is just one of the many concerns hoteliers have. Last year, one of the restrictions that most affected trade was the curfew. A 10:30 p.m. closure resulted in a 30% decrease in food and beverage income. The problem of the household mix and maximum table size also remains a challenge, especially as people want to reconnect with their larger family and friends. Introducing a risk-weighted model or increasing the number of people who can mingle would be a positive move. “

There have now been no further deaths in patients who tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland on Tuesday.

Another 112 cases of the virus have been reported by the Ministry of Health.

On Tuesday morning there were 77 Covid-positive patients in the hospital, seven of whom were in the intensive care unit.


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