Staycation demand expected to fuel Northern Ireland’s tourism in 2021


Increased staycation demand in 2021 is forecast to deliver a much-needed boost for Northern Ireland’s hotels, after the UK sector experienced its most challenging period in 50 years. 

PwC’s Hotels Forecast 2020 - 2021 reveals that, as a result of the pandemic, Belfast’s trading performance declined significantly with the secondest greatest drop in revenue per available room (RevPAR) of the 22 cities measured in the report. 

Over a twelve month period from July 2019 to July 2020, Belfast’s RevPAR, which had been above the regional average (£55.88 compared to £53.12), dropped in 2020 to £22.48 with the regional average at £25.56.

However the significant investment in the city centre’s hotels in 2018 - 2019 which led to record increases in room numbers means that it is well-placed to take advantage of a new norm in tourism. Ongoing travel restrictions and local lockdowns, as well as the fear of quarantine on return from overseas holidays, is predicted to fuel domestic leisure tourism in 2021. 

Cara Haffey, PwC NI Partner, commented: 

“Those looking for signs of potential new revenue streams are converging on staycations. Many hoteliers have invested significantly for the long-term in recent years and will encourage domestic travellers who might otherwise have planned overseas breaks. Lockdown has turned some of us into unofficial freelancers for Tourism NI as we seek out getaways closer to our doorsteps and share them on social media.

“The regions are expected to fare better than the capital in 2021, whether a vaccine is developed or not. Strong domestic leisure will also offer new potential investment opportunities to expand UK portfolios.”

Comparing July 2020 with the same month in 2019, occupancy rates in Belfast were recorded at 21.4%, down from 79% and the Average Daily Rate was £71.96, a decrease of 25%. However the average daily rate (ADR) was comfortably above the UK average of £66.74 and placed Belfast behind only London and Brighton. 

The renewed restrictions issued by the NI Executive have seen the majority of hotels closing their doors for a four-week period, although a number of rooms remain open to meet the needs of certain groups such as key workers. 

Cara continued:

“The hotel sector has demonstrated great resilience in the face of unimaginable pressures. The months in lockdown were spent preparing for reopening, and the enhanced safety measures paid off with a three-fold increase in visitors in August compared to last year as reported by the Hotels Federation NI. 

“Collecting data on customer experiences will now be more important than ever, as hoteliers take action to understand the impact of these changes on guests. As clients’ experiences change, hotels will benefit from focusing on what is making stays more enjoyable, and tackling those that are less so. While it can sound advanced to use customer-management tools, it doesn’t need to be expensive - but it will help to stay competitive.

“As we come to the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which served as a vital lifeline, hotels have had to be mindful of the claims they’ll be making around CJRS 2 as the calculations are complex. Some have struggled to comply and things are likely to get more complex under the Job Support Scheme from November 1st. The focus of the reconvened Tourism Recovery Steering Group will be around clarity of information and financial support as the sector manages the impact of Covid19.”

Sam Ward, UK hotels leader at PwC, said;

“Amid so much uncertainty, it’s imperative that hotels ready themselves for a difficult winter and act swiftly to demonstrate their adaptability. This is the time for hoteliers to look at their business model and find ways to cut costs. Those who can shift their focus to new customers, reorganise their operations and find innovative solutions stand the best chance of weathering the storm.” 


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