Hotels call for more support for their sector as occupancy still lagging behind
Northern Ireland Hotel Federation IHF reveal September’s hotel occupancy figures indicate the need for continued support and the restoration of international travel.
The Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) has shared performance figures from STR, the leading independent hotel benchmarking company, which show Northern Ireland hotel occupancy rates dropped to 65.2% in September, down over 12% percentage on August and July’s occupancy levels of 75.3% and 79.7% respectively.
Discussing the figures, Janice Gault, CEO of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, said: “This is not a surprising development, as summer trading was based on strong staycation demand from the leisure market, which is often aligned to traditional holiday patterns and school holidays.
“The attractiveness of Northern Ireland’s hotel offering was supported during the summer with a workable trading framework without a curfew, and the opening of the wider sector, including restaurants, bars and visitor attractions.
“In previous years September bookings would have been augmented by international tour business, as well as conference and meeting activity. However, this business has not returned in any significant manner.
“If you consider Northern Ireland’s pre-pandemic figures, in September 2019, hotel occupancy was 76.9%, while in 2018 it was 79.3%, both significantly higher than the 2021 level of 65.2%. The results highlight the importance of international travel, conferences, and meetings to the hotel industry.
“The obstacles in travelling into Northern Ireland from international destinations along with two differing positions on the island of Ireland have proved to be a real turnoff for visitors. Northern Ireland has been removed from tour itineraries for 2021 and there are concerns that this position could continue in the 2022 season.”
Looking ahead, Ms Gault said: “Forecasting is always a difficult task. The 2021 performance is certainly better than that of 2020, with a year-to-date occupancy of 45.7%. However, if you look at previous years, trading viewed through the lens of occupancy would have been sitting at over 70%.
“Currently, across all accommodation types, businesses are reporting strong weekend bookings, with a more challenging weeknight position. The wedding market, while quieter than over the summer months, has held up well and is set to be particularly strong over Christmas.
“There is uncertainty as we approach the winter trading period. The likelihood is that 2021 trading will taper out over the coming months resulting in an average occupancy level of 45%. A better year than many thought but one that indicates the sector will still need significant assistance to survive.
“Promotional campaigns in the domestic and GB market, along with the proposed ‘Stay at Home’ voucher scheme, are important initiatives in a winter when all support will be greatly welcomed.