HOTEL

Northern Ireland hotel room rates 40 per cent above pre-pandemic levels

HOTEL daily room rates here are over 40 per cent higher than they were in 2019 but a staffing crisis involving 1,000 vacancies is impacting the sector’s performance, said the Northern Ireland Hotel Federation (NIHF).

The industry body also said while occupancy rates last month compare favourably to the previous two years, sitting at 81.1 per cent for June alone, they are still four percent lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Meanwhile average daily room rates (ADR) are sitting at £107.41, which is 43 per cent higher than the £75.01 ADR in 2019.

That rise can be attributed to three years of wage increases (around 15 per cent since 2019), energy costs surges and consumables like toiletries doubling in cost as well said the NIHF.

Janice Gault, chief executive of the NIHF said: “Maintaining and selling a room has increased by 30-40 per cent since 2019 and are currently continuing to increase. It is important to note that a VAT is applied to rooms at 20 per cent.”

She said the most concerning issue for the sector however, is a raging staffing crisis that has been exacerbated by Brexit and the pandemic.

“A recent member poll highlighted how performance is being curtailed by recruiting difficulties,” she said. “There are currently 146 hotels trading in Northern Ireland and, with a full staffing complement, they would support 10,000 direct positions. All hotels polled had vacancies which equate to around 1,000 jobs to be filled.

“The main vacancies relate to chefs and kitchen staff. However, over 50 per cent of those polled had housekeeping, restaurant, bar service, supervisory and management roles.”

She added: “On Brexit we lost access to a large pool of staff in the EU who have traditionally taken up service, housekeeping and kitchen roles. This pool is no longer available to us without visas.

“The pandemic has seen staff leave for lots of reasons – some EU citizens went home, others have moved into alternative sectors and there has been the great resignation which has not only affected tourism and hospitality but also the entire labour market — this is a UK wide issue.”

The tourism chief called on the government to change immigration policies to allow hoteliers to avail of a wider geographic talent pool.

“We would like a simpler process to bring workers in. The current system is unwieldy, time consuming and costly.

She added: “There are more vacancies than job-ready candidates which creates competition between business segments.

“The Federation would like to see changes to immigration policy and a recognition of the role the industry can play in creating long term, secure and sustainable roles which support economic growth. The sector needs to be part of the government’s ambition for the 10x Economy with an appropriate skills and education framework to support it.

“NIHF has commissioned a study by Ulster University Economic Policy Centre to review the issue, highlight the challenge and explore solutions.”

Ms Gault referenced recent labour market statistics by NISRA that showed that 28 per cent of those who are not currently working here are deemed eligible to work suggesting that workforce could also be tapped into.

She said: “NI figures are higher than the rest of the UK. It has been a challenge to access this segment in a meaningful way. A framework needs to be put in place to ensure that those who are economically inactive are given the opportunity to be job ready — this would need to take into account the position candidates find themselves in.

“Through Hospitality and Tourism Skill (HATS) we are doing work to explore ways of doing this, identifying those who are keen to return to the market and work in collaboration to find ways to support and encourage them. Stormont can assist with this but in reality a UK wide suite of support and policies would really help.”

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