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Hotels brace for lockdown lifting

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FINANCIAL SUPPORT NEEDED  Michael Lennon believes the Government have to offer a range of supports to the hotel industry.

Two in five Mayo hotels might not reopen this year

Áine Ryan

OF the €200 million from the tourism industry that helps to keep Co Mayo’s economy afloat each year, it is hard to predict precisely what the lifting of the lockdown will salvage in 2020.
That is according to Westport hotelier Michael Lennon, who believes that up to 40 percent of the county’s hotels, mainly smaller ones, will not open this year, effectively leading to the loss of thousands of jobs, directly and indirectly.
On a more-positive note though, Lennon, who runs the Westport Woods Hotel, sees light at the end of the tunnel. All hotels in the tourism haven of Westport will reopen from July 20, as part of Phase Four of the Government’s lifting of the lockdown, and due to a great collaborative ethos are already working hard towards the application of new social-distancing regulations, due to be officially announced last night (Monday).
Indeed, he confirms that bookings for family staycations are already brisk, with late July and August looking busy.

Warning note
However, the recently retired President of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) also sounds a warning note: “We still haven’t a Government to confirm what supports will be there for the industry.
“We urgently need a reduction in VAT back to 9 percent – last year’s increase cost us €466 million. We need the wage subsidy to continue, it is very, very important and will ensure that a lot of businesses can reopen. We also need a waiver of all local-authority rates.”
On top of these supports, other grants – or so-called ‘helicopter money’ – are urgently needed to pay for all the extra costs incurred in ensuring the new screening measures are in place. These include the cost of staff training and the social-distancing and hygiene measures that must be adhered to by businesses.
“Such financial support is already happening in Italy and Spain. With the two-metre distance regulation we will have to take out 30 to 40 percent of our seating. That means we will definitely make a loss this year. If the distance was reduced to one metre it would mean we could break even,” Michael Lennon tells The Mayo News.
While spacious hotels can manage the bigger distance, it will cripple the potential of small cafés to stay afloat, he observes.
“That is why we need the county council to push parking in to the carparks and allow some seating on the street. It will make all the difference for cafés,” he adds.

Westport meitheal
He stresses how fortunate the businesses in Westport are because of the town’s ‘meitheal’ approach.
“We are really working well together and understand each other’s various plights as we try to overcome this in an innovative way. Our glass is already half-full,” Michael Lennon says.
He praises the great communality and foresight in such organisations as the Chamber of Commerce, which now has a membership of some 200, Westport Tourism Organisation and Destination Westport.
“The big thing now is to ensure that we don’t get into liquidity problems with the banks. There is such an opportunity here now to have a more-sustainable product while reducing our carbon footprint.”