Road to recovery is set - but challenges will take time to overcome

Welcome movement has been made at Stormont on the issue of minimum unit pricing, which will stop alcohol being sold at pocket money prices
Colin Neill

OVER the past four months we've come through some horrendously difficult times as the coronavirus lockdown created an emergency not seen in recent history.

It's been a long and difficult road for the hospitality sector. Businesses have struggled their way through a period of enforced closure returning under social distancing guidelines and industry guidance, with others not as fortunate with closures and redundancies.

We are still not out of the woods. Not by a long shot. Reopening is being taken very seriously and the adherence to extensive safety and hygiene measures has meant that we are slowly but surely getting back to business.

For many, break-even, never mind profitability, is some way off yet under current circumstances.

But despite the devastating impact Covid has had, we are now seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. In several weeks’ time we are hopeful that traditional pubs, known as ‘wet pubs’, will open under specific guidelines, bringing much of the hospitality sector back, although at reduced capacity.

Recently, we acknowledged progress on the Liquor Licensing Bill which was signed off by the Executive via the Minister for Communities. We warmly welcomed the progress, which, when approved by the Assembly, will bring about the biggest changes to the hospitality sector in a generation. We have been calling for these proposed changes which include, removing restrictions on Easter opening hours and additional permitted opening hours, for some time.

Prior to Coronavirus, despite being a £1.2 billion a year industry and the backbone of the tourism offer, the growth potential of the hospitality sector was being curtailed by outdated legislation. As we look to rebuild the hospitality sector here after lockdown, it is imperative that businesses have all the tools necessary to thrive.

Despite the undoubted challenges ahead, this updated legislation would be a welcome boost for hospitality businesses right across Northern Ireland.

And only last week, the health minister made a significant and progressive step forward in announcing his intention to consult on the minimum unit pricing of alcohol. This is a measure Hospitality Ulster has lobbied on for some time and it is great to see the necessary moves will be made within the next year.

Minimum unit pricing is about supporting the responsible consumption of alcohol, and we are fully behind that. We expect that the days of alcohol being sold at pocket money prices will come to an end.

As government initiatives such as the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ campaign kicks in, we encourage everyone to take advantage and go out and enjoy themselves in a responsible way. We must acknowledge the resilience of those in the hospitality sector who have got us to this point.

It’s been tough, but as we reopen safely, we must ensure that the power of closure is placed upon those who flout the rules, so we are not forced back to the place we were in several months ago. We all have a responsibility to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The recent announcements by the various ministers around the Executive table bringing forward legislation, consultations, and policy initiatives after lobbying from Hospitality Ulster allows us to be hopeful for the future of the hospitality sector and its importance to the economy is recognised.

Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access