Dalata Hotel Group's chief executive Pat McCann said today that the group has laid off 3,500 of its workers as a result of closures forced by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.  

He told shareholders at today's "closed" AGM today - conducted over a conference call - that he was "so sorry" he had to do this.

But he said contacts were continuing with laid off employees through various programmes including "fitness exercises".  

Those who remain working in the group have seen "significant" cuts in salaries, Mr McCann said. 

Overall, he said the group is in "pretty good shape" with a good balance sheet and sufficient cash to withstand the impact of the pandemic. 

Speaking to RTE News after the AGM, Mr McCann said the hotel group could manage with the current situation for the foreseeable future.

"On top of having obviously cash on the balance sheet we also have a lot of assets on the balance sheet so that gives us an opportunity to do other things without resorting to shareholders," he said.

"So having the mix on the balance sheet of having owned, leased and managed assets means we are in a very strong position compared to a lot of our international competitors who have a majority of leased hotels on their balance sheet."

He also said the hotel group would not be seeking assistance or supports from the Government.

"When we look at that what we need to look at is some of our competitors in Ireland…where they will struggle from a liquidity point of view and we would be looking to the Government to help some of those guys out in the short-term," he said.

"Because that will be the big problem, as we start to come back out of this will a lot  of these companies still be around to open."

When it comes to lifting restrictions, Mr McCann said the country needs to be careful to not pit industry and businesses against the health service and that a unified approach is needed.

"For us what we would like would be some kind of road map so that we can plan because when you are opening up businesses it is much more challenging than shutting them down and it takes time and it takes planning. It is not an immediate thing that you can suddenly start from where you left off. So we need to make sure there is a plan in place that we are well tuned into and that we can respond to," he said.

However, he added that reopening hotels would be done on a phase basis, and internally hotels would reopen different areas in phases, with rooms coming first and share spaces like lounges and fitness centres later.

"Hotels in the short term are going to look very different to what people might normally expect," he said.

"But we have to be in a situation where we can start to open up a little bit.  But until travel restrictions are lifted there is simply going to be no business in Irish hotels."

He also said potential acquisitions are not off the table for Dalata at this time.

"Out of this crisis will come opportunity and Dalata is very well positioned to take advantage of the crisis," he claimed.

He also said that the current Dalata share prices represents "a real opportunity for investors to look at".

Earlier, Dalata said that the sudden onset of Covid-19 has had a very significant impact on its business and the outlook for the rest of the year remains uncertain.

In a statement issued ahead of the AGM, it said that revenue per available room (RevPAR) fell by 24.3% at its Dublin hotels, 14% at its regional Ireland hotels and 18.6% at its UK hotels. 

Adjusted EBITDA for the first quarter of 2020 was €17.7m and the hotel group said these figures include two months of normal trading before the effects of the global pandemic were first felt in the business. 

"Our results for subsequent periods will reflect the fact that currently our hotels are either temporarily closed or operating at significantly reduced capacities in line with guidelines issued by the Irish and UK governments," the company said.

"It is not yet known when the current restrictions on travel and movement will be lifted in Ireland and the UK. The outlook for the remainder of the year remains uncertain as a result," it added.

Last week Dalata agreed the sale and lease back of Clayton Hotel Charlemont in Dublin to Deka Immobilien in a deal worth €65m. 

"This transaction, which we completed on 24 April, strengthens our considerable cash resources during the current Covid-19 crisis and ensures that financially we are in a strong position to trade through the crisis," the company said. 

"We have significant financial headroom and will be in compliance with covenants in June 2020," it added.

Mr McCann said further sales like that one are not being contemplated.

Today's AGM  was held as a closed meeting and shareholders were not be able to attend in person. 

The company said that while it regrets the need to take this step, it was necessary to comply with the advice from the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) on public gatherings and social distancing and to safeguard its shareholders' and employees' health. 

Shares in the company moved sharply higher in Dublin trade today.