Hotels were left in limbo by today's stricter coronavirus restrictions with little clarity as to whether they were included in the general closure of hospitality venues.
While restaurants, cafés and pubs must shutter from Friday, hoteliers were left scratching their heads at the new protocols. And there was also no definitive advice yet for cinemas which were battling hard to be allowed to remain open with Covid mitigations in place.
Hotel Federation CEO Janice Gault said it was unclear if bookings could be accepted from this weekend and whether any guests could eat in hotel restaurants or receive room service. "I am slightly confused at the moment," she said, "We are told we will get clarity later."
Bill Wolsley of the Merchant Hotel said the latest closure amounted to "death by a thousand cuts".
General Manager at Malmaison Hotel in central Belfast, Eamonn Elliott told belfastmedia.com that the lack of information on the lockdown had left hoteliers not knowing where they stood. "We need more information so we can decide what services we are allowed to provide," he said. "I have been on calls most of the day seeking clarity," he said, "and it now looks like we may get more information tomorrow. The phones have been hopping all day with people who have bookings asking if we will are open or closed this weekend but at this point we just don't know. Certainly, if we can open but can't serve food and beverage, it really won't be worth our while to open at all. We are effectively in limbo."
He added: "The recommendation to have a lockdown is fair enough if that is what has to happen but once they made the decision, they should have been more definitive about how it affects hotels."
Michael McAdam, owner of the Moviehouse chain of cinemas cautioned the government against a one-size-fits-all approach. "When the first lockdown was lifted, the government had literally forgotten about cinemas and we had to lobby to be allowed to reopen with the rest of the leisure sector," he said. "It seems we've been overlooked this time again as there is no clarity around our position. I would only say that if they are following the evidence then we should be allowed to remain open as the medical research commissioned into the cinema sector shows that we are not a source of virus spread." He added: "If it has to happen, it has to happen but I really wish someone would listen to our case before adopting a one-size-fits-all strategy but the reality is that it's very hard to make your voice heard to government."
Laoise Ferris of O'Neill's Gymnastics said they were waiting for further clarification of the restrictions to understand how it would affect their facility which caters mainly for young people. "We will continue with all our mitigations in place until we hear what exactly the new measures mean for us," she said.
Addressing the annual conference online of the hotel federation today, Minister for the Economy Diane Dodds acknowledged the latest lockdown decision was a blow to the sector's recovery.
“Under the latest restrictions just announced this morning, the Executive has decided the hospitality sector now must close again for normal business, with some specific exceptions, for four weeks from Friday 16 October," she said. "I am urgently engaging with Executive colleagues to clarify the specifics of these new restrictions, and the potential impact on hotels, before they come into effect. I recognise this is another tough blow for the sector and I am working with Executive colleagues to urgently identify what financial or other support can be offered to help hotels, and the wider hospitality sector, through this very difficult time.”