Coronavirus: B&Bs struggle to survive due to 'lack of support'

By Chris Andrews

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image source, Getty Images

Many bed and breakfast providers are struggling to survive as they have not been able to apply for Stormont's Covid-19 support schemes, according to the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance.

Chief Executive Joanne Stuart said some are "existing on savings or having to look at loans".

Pauline Mendez, who runs a B&B in Bangor, told BBC News NI she had received "zero" support.

B&Bs which do not pay business rates are ineligible for Stormont's schemes.

Ms Stuart said: "Bed and breakfasts are an important part of our accommodation mix.

"The majority of them pay domestic rates and not business rates and all of the grant schemes to date have been based on business rates.

"It was hoped that the Northern Ireland micro-business hardship fund would deal with that gap.

"But when the criteria came out, they were unable to avail of that grant due to the fact that they only employed themselves and within the grant you had to specifically employ somebody other than yourself to be eligible, so it closed the door to them."

image source, Pauline Mendez
image captionPauline Mendez said she relied on international visitors which has ended due to travel restrictions

She said many owners were "considering whether they can continue" after the pandemic.

Pauline Mendez's B&B in Bangor is limited to six guests.

She fears some income has been "permanently lost" due to cancelled bookings.

As most of their visitors are international travellers, she is concerned this revenue stream could end "until there is a vaccine".

"There has been no financial support at all, but the overheads remain," she explained.

"Some people think that a B&B is just a private house profiteering by letting rooms out, but that is just not the case.

"We're the same as a big guesthouse, it's just we have a smaller income."

She said she does not believe the NI executive understands the significance of B&Bs in the local economy.

"Every day guests stay here they are spending pounds per head in local restaurants, local attractions, local activities," Pauline added.

Extra costs

Tourism NI reports there were 955 guesthouses, guest accommodation and B&Bs operating in Northern Ireland as of the end of January 2020, with 3,976 rooms available in total. There are 145 hotels.

Under the executive's plan to ease coronavirus lockdown measures, tourism accommodation providers have been told to expect a reopening date of 20 July.

On Monday, First Minister Arlene Foster said this was to allow for pre-bookings and the date could be "flexible" depending on the medical and scientific advice.

In the Republic of Ireland, the date for reopening was brought forward from 20 July to 29 June.

image source, Shelley Bass
image captionShelley and Ray Bass said they are unsure about their B&B's future if it cannot make enough money

Shelley Bass, who owns a B&B in Enniskillen, said she was able to access a £10,000 Stormont grant which "kept our heads above water" as she pays business rates.

However, she said the lack of "ongoing support" means, due to the extra costs involved with reopening, she fears whether the eight-bedroom B&B can make "enough money to keep us through winter".

Shelley said she has spent a lot of money on cleaning and reviewing ways they can keep to the guidelines.

She added that she hopes guests will be reassured about their standards "as we're living in the house as well".

Recovery group

Speaking in the assembly on Thursday, Economy Minister Diane Dodds said she will bring forward a paper on options for further support for the tourism sector.

"The tourism offering in Northern Ireland isn't just about the five-star hotels, important as they are, or even the medium-sized hotels," she told MLAs.

"But many people who visit the north coast, who go to Fermanagh, who go across Northern Ireland, find themselves in really, really good accommodation in local guesthouses and B&Bs.

"It is something that is on my mind."

In a statement, the minister's department said she chairs a tourism recovery steering group which "brings together the public and private sectors to develop a roadmap for tourism as we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis".

"The tourist accommodation sector is represented on the group and issues affecting that sector are being examined," it continued.

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