Stormont economy minister Diane Dodds.
NORTHERN Ireland's hotels can reopen from July 20 as long as the rate of infection is under control, Stormont economy minister Diane Dodds has said.
The industry has been devastated by a shutdown forced by the coronavirus pandemic in March.
Mrs Dodds said: "Covid-19 has presented an unprecedented challenge for our tourism industry, as it has for tourism markets around the world.
"I believe the time is right to provide the tourist accommodation sector with clarity about opening dates.
"I want to build upon the positive progress in managing the spread of the virus and begin to reopen our tourism industry in a safe and managed way."
The July 20 date covers guesthouses, guest accommodation, B&Bs, hotels and hostels.
A tourism steering group will be asked to work with the sector to explore what facilities and amenities can safely be made available by hotels and recommendations will be brought to the Executive in due course.
Holiday and home parks, caravan sites and self-catering properties are also covered by the July 20 date.
Mrs Dodds said: "As they are self-contained and may require less advance notice before opening, the opening times for these types of accommodation may be advanced to earlier than July 20 depending on scientific advice."
Northern Ireland Hotels Federation chief executive Janice Gault said it was a welcome move.
She added: "This is a step forward for the industry and the federation has been working closely with industry colleagues to ensure that businesses can open in a safe and secure manner.
"There is more work to be done around the details of opening.
"We will continue to work in a collaborative manner so that the visitor economy, including the hotel sector, can return to business and help restore the Northern Ireland economy.
"The safety of our staff and guests will be paramount in this process.
"Having an agreed date will help us to plan, promote and give businesses the opportunity to assess their viability."