Many NI hotels are fully booked on the first weekend of reopening due to concerns about the influx of visitors from the Republic
Many hotels across Northern Ireland are full on their first reopening weekend this year amid concerns about an influx of visitors from the Republic where coronavirus restrictions persist.
The north took major steps to come out of lockdown on Monday after nearly five months under tight restrictions, with hotels, bed and breakfasts and other travel and sightseeing spots allowed to open.
The coming bank holiday weekend saw an increase in accommodation bookings with many hotels in Belfast, Derry, Newry and the north fully booked or with limited availability.
It is understood that many bookings are visitors from the Republic escaping the Irish government’s ongoing covid measures.
However, it comes just days after Stormont’s Health Minister Robin Swann said health officials remained concerned about infection rates in the Republic and the slower level of vaccination.
Recent figures show Donegal had the second highest incidence rate of Covid-19 in the Republic. Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has ruled out blocking non-essential cross-border travel.
Current guidelines say visitors to Northern Ireland from the Common Travel Area, of which the Republic is a part, should self-isolate on arrival for 10 days, unless exempted.
Amid an expected influx of visitors from the Republic, DUP MP Jonathan Buckley expressed concern about the “delay in the vaccination program in the south” and the “lack of clear guidelines surrounding the common travel area”.
“The economy needs visitors from the Republic, England, Scotland and Wales to be able to support business,” he said.
“But the government needs to look at freedom of movement. It needs to clarify this issue, there is a certain degree of ambiguity.
“My concern is the lack of clear guidelines regarding the common travel area and the delay in the vaccination program in the south.
“But we need custom to be able to support our economy.”
Janice Gault, of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, said the travel advice was “somewhat confusing”.
“The hotels have had a strong performance from the opening of the building to a very busy weekend,” she said.
“The holiday is proving to be very popular, confirming the strong pent-up demand for hotel stays and their hospitality offer.
“Bookings appear to be strong across Northern Ireland with resort properties proving to be very popular.
“There are bookings from south of the border, but it is not a public holiday there. Hotels will reopen on June 2 south of the border and further easement announcements are expected this week. .
“The travel advice is somewhat confusing and the hope is that it will be clarified for the public and for business.”
Julie Hastings of Hastings Hotels said they are getting ready for a busy weekend.
“I am delighted to report that our seven hotels have been very busy since reopening and that we are preparing for an even busier holiday weekend with limited remaining capacity,” she said.
“It has been great welcoming customers through our doors and providing the first class service and hospitality that Hastings hotels are known for.
“This year, more than ever, will be the summer of stay and already, accommodation from June to August is up compared to the same period last year.”
Joanne Stuart, Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance, also spoke about the impact of current health advice on visitors outside the north.
“The most important thing this causes us is the inability to promote Northern Ireland outside of Northern Ireland,” she told Stormont’s economic committee.
“Obviously, we can’t be seen as encouraging people to travel when there is advice saying you should isolate yourself if you are visiting for leisure.
“This will have a big impact on demand this year.
“We have seen great support from our home market and our stays, but that will not support the industry.
“We need our visitors from Great Britain, we need our visitors from the Republic of Ireland and obviously later in the year we hope to be able to welcome international visitors.”
Asked about concerns about an influx of visitors from the Republic, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said: “The prevalence of Covid in return on investment remains significantly higher than at NI, so there will be a risk associated with travel in NI “.
She said the north had “little presence of worrisome variants that are more transmissible.”
“If these variants were to become significant, we might start to see an increase in hospital cases and potentially deaths.”