NI hotels need 17 days’ notice for reopening with over 2,000 staff needed

A survey conducted by the NI Hotels Federation (NIHF) has revealed that hotels here would require an average of 17 days to re-open and have positions for over 2,500 staff which they will need to recruit prior to reopening.

Tuesday, 30th March 2021, 2:30 pm

Across the north there are currently 143 hotels with 9,580 bedrooms certified by Tourism Northern Ireland. Hotels are currently on a third lockdown having opened and closed three times over the last year.

NIHF CEO, Derry woman Janice Gault said: “By March 31, 2021 hotels will have been closed for 96 continuous days with no indicative dates for reopening. This is the longest period of lockdown since the onset of the pandemic. Trading over the last year has been challenging with only 120 days of trading, 38 of these with a curfew in place.

“As society moves along the pathway to re-opening, the pressures on the sector remain high. The Federation surveyed its members to gauge their thoughts on the re-opening process. The biggest concern is staffing with the majority of properties indicating a need for recruitment. While not all were able to give definite numbers, the data collected indicates that the hotel sector will need to recruit over 2,500 staff prior to re-opening. This is not a short process as staff have to be selected, interviewed and trained.

Derry woman Janice Gault, CEO NI Hotels Federation.

“Consumer sentiment indicates that there is considerable pent-up demand for staycations with hotels remaining the most popular option. However, without an opening date, it is impossible to commence any recruitment process and there is a real risk that if hotels open under the stress of poor staffing levels, they won’t be able to satisfy customer needs and therefore they won’t be able to realise the full potential of staycations.”

She added: “The average number of days’ notice hotels feel that they will need to re-open is 17 with the majority coming in between 14 - 21 days. The sector has invested around £10m to meet COVID-19 compliancy and is realistic about what measures will be in place once business resumes. These include risk assessments, face covering and the continuation of monitoring measures. Safety and health remain the primary concern of travellers and hotels recognise the need to reassure guests for the foreseeable future. This, along with flexibility around booking, are the key factors contributing to successful hotel trading going forward.”

Other challenges exist around the customer base that hoteliers will be allowed to service. Hotels in the main would like to open to serve residents and non-residents. For many urban businesses and smaller properties, the business mix is dominated by food and beverage spend. Without the ability to service the market beyond residents, 63% of hotel operations are unviable. It is a similar situation for those with spa and leisure facilities, with the majority feeling that opening without these options available to guests is not a viable proposition.

NIHF President Stephen Meldrum highlights some of the challenges that hoteliers are currently facing: “Staffing is just one of the many concerns hoteliers have. Last year, one of the restrictions that had most impact on trading was the curfew. A 10.30pm closure resulted in a fall of 30% in food and beverage revenue. The issue of household mixing and maximum table size also remains a challenge, particularly as people will want to reconnect with their wider family circle and friends. Putting in place a risk assessed model or increasing the numbers of those who can mix would be a positive development.

“Similarly, the wedding market is a significant income stream for the hotel market often representing up to 35% of total turnover. There are currently 3,702 weddings booked in hotels up until the end of July 2021. Many couples who were to marry last year have moved into summer 2021 and the concern is that with restricted attendance numbers they will cancel or simply move to a smaller venue. Hotels are currently prohibited from doing wedding show rounds which only exacerbates an already fraught situation.

“Weddings with receptions were allowed to take place from July 3, 2020 with risk assessments in place. There was guidance in place which was the premise for the staging of weddings throughout any permitted opening. Currently receptions are not permitted. The new pathway suggested that receptions will be slower to return with a restriction on numbers when their prohibition is lifted. Three quarters of those who stage weddings do not think that this is viable for them. A number have also indicated that without a restoration of the wedding market under the risk assessed model, the viability of their entire operation is questionable.”

Outlining the steps that need to be taken to assist the industry with its transition out of lockdown, NIHF CEO Janice Gault adds: “Hotels can offer a real opportunity to maximise the potential of staycations, create new employment and give much needed hope. The industry would like to see the sector included in the next review on 15th April, so that they can plan effectively and help restore the economy.”