The reopening of hotels across England and Northern Ireland at the weekend has prompted an immediate uplift in bookings, according to operators.

Hotels and restaurants reopened in Northern Ireland on Friday and England on Saturday, as lockdown restrictions were eased.

Chris Cundall, director of trade relations at UK operator Great Little Breaks, said: “We are starting to see an increase in bookings, with seaside destinations proving most popular.

“People are booking short lead-in times, with bookings made this weekend for next weekend and into August. Many are waiting on hotels reopening leisure facilities.”

Slieve Donard Resort and Spa in County Down, part of Hastings Hotels, reopened 50 of its 181 rooms on Friday. General manager Michael Weston said 70% of the 50 rooms were filled last weekend, 60% are booked through July and August, and he expected 85% to be filled once leisure facilities reopen on August 7.

“We were very keen not to overstretch ourselves,” said Weston. “I’m delighted to be back breathing some air into this big old building.”

John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism Northern Ireland, said 75% of the region’s hotels had reopened, noting that Friday was chosen ahead of Saturday “because we felt people were more likely to stay in a hotel for a weekend” and “to give the industry the best chance to get some bookings”.

He said the opening weekend was “in line with expectations” and bookings were “building nicely”.

Flying in ‘the new normal’

Like many in the industry, I’ve been desperate to travel again, so I was excited to head to Heathrow on Friday morning, face mask at the ready, for a BA flight to Belfast City. Hygiene at the airport couldn’t have been better, with many hand sanitiser stations and signs about social distancing, and BA crew gave us gel and wipes as we boarded.

The flight was busy, with most rows of seats full – something that might put clients off – and a pre-packed snack was provided, rather than a full meal service.

For some clients, flying will still feel a step too far, but for those like me it’s reassuring to know health and hygiene are at the forefront of everyone’s minds.