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Northern Ireland reopening: 'I'm delighted to be back breathing some air into this big old building'

04 July 2020 by

The reopening of hotels, bars and restaurants across Northern Ireland has been greeted with "delight" by one of the region's leading hotel groups, despite losing out on lucrative international markets this year.

Hospitality venues in Northern Ireland were given the green light to reopen from July 3, a day earlier than in England, following a relaxation of restrictions across the Republic of Ireland earlier in the week.

Slieve Donard Resort and Spa in County Down, part of Northern Irish group Hastings Hotels, was among the first to reopen on Friday with 50 of its total 181 rooms now open to guests.

General manager Michael Weston said occupancy – based on the new 50-room limit – was at 70% for its opening weekend, with 28 covers in main restaurant The Oak compared to around 120 on a typical Friday evening.

He said: "We were very keen not to overstretch ourselves so we have reopened with a limited number of rooms available.

"It's a great starter for 10 – it's a number we feel comfortable with.

"On a personal level, there's excitement that there's a resurgence. It's been an interesting road, but I'm delighted to be back breathing some air into this big old building."

Weston added that the domestic market had become the key focus after international bookings – which typically make up 60% of guests between April and October – had dwindled to "almost zero" this year.

The neighbouring Royal County Down Golf Club has reopened but the hotel's spa and leisure facilities remain closed until at least August 7.

Weston added: "We are still operating in the area of 60% on the books [for July and August], and when leisure comes back, I would say we could achieve a good enough summer to get us upwards of 85% of those 50 rooms.

"It's very much dependent on what happens – the confidence does seem to be there with guests."

Hand sanitising stations have been set up at entry points to different wings of the hotel, daily housekeeping has been suspended and guests required to pre-book dining times and other facilities. Newspapers have been replaced with access to Press Reader, while visitor information leaflets have been removed in favour of QR-coded details available for guests to access by phone.

Hastings Hotels is currently in a consultation period with staff over redundancies.

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