May 6, 2020 / 10:26 AM / a month ago

Dalata hopes hotels will be able to reopen before Ireland's July target

DUBLIN, May 6 (Reuters) - The chief executive of Dalata Hotel Group, Ireland’s biggest hotel operator, hopes the sector can reopen before the July 20 target set by the government and said his company would need to be creative, such as offering self-isolation services.

Ireland laid out a roadmap on Friday for gradually easing its coronavirus lockdown, under which hotels are expected to start operating again with limited capacity in two-and-a-half months, if the spread of the virus remains under control.

Dalata CEO Pat McCann told Reuters the industry was pleased a plan was in place but disappointed they would only have five weeks before schools return from summer holidays to attract guests. But he acknowledged any shift towards an earlier reopening would depend on whether the virus was contained.

“What we’d be hoping is that if things went better, there may be an opportunity to bring that date back somewhat,” McCann said in a telephone interview, adding that a 20-km (13-mile) limit on travel would also need to be lifted sooner.

Dalata has temporarily shut 29 of its 44 hotels in Ireland and Britain, while temporarily laying off more than two-thirds of its staff. McCann said on Wednesday there would be no more temporary layoffs beyond the current 3,500.

The 15 hotels still operating were housing self-isolating health workers. McCann said hotels could in future offer such a service to corporate travellers, who under current restrictions would need to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival in Ireland.

“We are having to be very creative,” said McCann, who expects an initial pick up in travel by executives from multinational companies with operations in Ireland.

But he expected corporate travel to resume slowly as many companies continued operating remotely at first before gradually returning to normal.

The hotel group plans to resume bookings in June, offering Irish travellers cut-price breaks.

McCann said further Irish government support, such as reducing value added tax (VAT) payments, would be needed to limit closures in the industry.

McCann suggested cutting the rate to 7% from 13.5%, which would make it a similar level to Germany, would be welcomed.

Dalata said it would seek to expand in Britain, where it now owns or leases 12 hotels, as opportunities “may arise sooner rather than later” as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

“My intention is take full advantage of this crisis,” he said. (Editing by Edmund Blair)

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