Economy Minister Diane Dodds joined guests at Belfast’s Grand Central Hotel for breakfast to welcome the reopening of indoor hospitality under the recent Coronavirus guidelines.
The Minister was accompanied by Janice Gault of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) and Stephen Meldrum from the Grand Central Hotel to mark the day that licensed and unlicensed hospitality – including hotels, cafés, restaurants and pubs – reopened their doors to serve customers indoors for the first time since Christmas.
Minister Dodds said: “The last five months have been a difficult time for many of our businesses but hotels, cafes, restaurants and pubs have been hit particularly hard. Therefore it is a pleasure for me to join guests at the Grand Central for breakfast today. I share the sense of relief felt by everyone across hospitality and tourism and the sense of anticipation felt by the public who are eager to enjoy a more normal social life again.
“Reopening all businesses as soon as it is safe to do so is the single biggest driver of economic recovery. There is still more do, however, today marks an important step forward.
“We have directed our energies to supporting our tourism industry prepare for a safe and successful reopening. Our local hospitality sector is working hard to give visitors a warm and safe welcome back. We are in a strong position to appeal to our closer-to-home markets this year and there is huge interest from international tour operators in Northern Ireland from 2022 as global tourism reopens.”
The Minister added: “If you are heading out for a bite to eat or a drink, please adhere to the guidance to ensure a safe as well as an enjoyable experience. I would also urge everyone to get both their doses of the vaccine as soon as they are eligible. It saves lives and is vital to our hopes of economic recovery.”
Janice Gault, Chief Executive of the NIHF, said: “Today is a positive one for the hotel, accommodation and wider hospitality sector as it reopens after 150 days of lockdown. Hotels are delighted to be welcoming back guests and taking the first step towards restoring business and rebuilding the economy. The sector is responsible and has significant measures in place to mitigate the risks arising from the pandemic.
“Economy Minister Diane Dodds has been a champion for the sector, fighting its cause and highlighting the support required to preserve its infrastructure. Hoteliers have shown great resilience over the last year and thankfully the focus on staycations is translating into relatively strong bookings. Now is the time to work in collaboration with other parts of the economy to create a better future.”
Grand Central General Manager Stephen Meldrum said: “I’m delighted that our doors have reopened to the public today. The hotel has remained operational for essential workers throughout lockdown and it was good to be able to help in some small way to keep the economy alive and support essential workers. However, nothing can replace the buzz that comes with people dropping in for coffee and guests arriving for overnight stays. It has been challenging for everyone and without the support measures that have been in place, survival would not have been possible.
“Our staff are also excited about returning to more normal times. This week we have a number of weddings, bookings for accommodation and afternoon tea in The Observatory. It is a positive development and the industry recognises the trust that has been placed in it and it knows that it has an important role to play.”