An economic stimulus package that would have offered Northern Irish households £ 100 off local tourist stays has been cut, the Minister for the Economy has confirmed.
Gordon Lyons told the Assembly that the planned vacation home program will not continue.
He said the executive had failed to support the initiative after his ministerial officials discovered that it would not offer value for money.
Mr Lyons said he had urged the executive to consider supporting the program despite the value for money issues, arguing that it would have provided a “significant economic boost” to the tourism and hospitality sector in difficulty.
As part of the Covid-19 economic stimulus package, households would have been entitled to claim 50% off a two-night stay in local accommodation, up to a value of £ 100.
The vouchers, which were said to have been awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, also reportedly offered 50% off sightseeing tours to tourist attractions, up to the value of £ 20.
“Unfortunately, the vacation home program is not continuing,” Mr. Lyons said during Assembly Question Time.
“I looked forward to being able to implement the program as I recognize the difficult times that hotels and the hospitality industry in general have gone through over the past few months.
“I had brought this to my department, they were looking at the business case for the program, but we are unable to confirm that it was good value for money.
“However, because I thought it would give that much needed boost, and combined money from the private and public sectors, it would have been worth considering.
“So I issued a ministerial instruction to my ministerial accountant that required it to be forwarded to the executive or the Minister of Finance (Conor Murphy).
“Unfortunately, the executive was not prepared to approve the project and neither was the finance ministry, so unfortunately it will not be able to make any further progress.”
He added: “I thought it would have been a really good way to stimulate the economy and keep the hotel and hospitality industry going, especially during these very difficult months of January, February and March.
“I am very disappointed that I was unable to get support for what could have been really beneficial measures during such a really difficult time.”
Mr Lyons said he got £ 6.5million to boost tourism marketing activity for the remainder of the year.
“I hope that somehow this will help struggling businesses,” he said.
The minister said £ 1.6million spent under the executive’s other flagship stimulus initiative – the High Street Voucher Scheme – had been spent on tourism service providers.
Mr. Lyons provided a broader update on the Main Street program during Question Time.
He said almost 1.4million £ 100 prepaid cards have been issued and £ 115million has been spent in the local economy so far. He said 1,350,436 cards had been activated.
The minister said there was already evidence the initiative was leading to higher visitation rates in the region – with main streets in Northern Ireland currently being busier than those in England, Scotland and the country of Wales.
He urged people to spend all the money on their cards. He said the average unspent amount fell from £ 17 last week to £ 11 this week.
Mr Lyons responded to concerns that some people still had not received their cards even though the deadline to spend them was only a week away.
The minister said another 4,500 cards were issued on Monday using an overnight delivery service.