Business

Hospitality needs early assurance that December 11 reopening date is met

EMPTY BAR: Hospitality Ulster is demanding an early assurance that the December 11 reopening date for the sector is met
Colin Neill

THIS is certainly a year to forget for individuals, families, and businesses. And for those in the hospitality sector, it has been particularly devastating.

December and the Christmas period are usually a crucial time when those in hospitality seek to maximise their sales, while ensuring everyone experiences some festive cheer.

But this year the picture is much different. Our excellent Covid-secure pubs, restaurants and hotels remain closed, the taps are dry, and the festive cheer is very much absent from our towns, villages, and cities. Despite everything that we have been laden with over the years, the last number of months will have been some of the most difficult our members and their employees will have faced.

December should be a month filled with hope. But as each day passes, that hope that all of our hospitality businesses including our wet, traditional pubs will be able to even reopen on Friday December 11 is fading.

This is an extremely important part of the year for a number of reasons, but even more so this year as business owners fight to save jobs and their businesses and reduce their crippling losses in the very short pre-Christmas trading period if it comes.

The hospitality sector has suffered immensely this year and the opportunity to be open and doing what they do best over Christmas would bring both a much needed morale boost and ease some of the financial pressures.

For months now we have been calling for clarity and pleading with the NI Executive to provide timely information so that businesses can plan ahead. However, we have been left in the unfortunate and quite frankly unnecessary situation where decisions have been left to the eleventh hour which has resulted in huge confusion and further financial losses within the sector. Our businesses simply cannot afford for this to happen again and we hope that the new task force which has been announced will include representation from the hospitality sector.

As well as the absence of clarity, sufficient financial support has been a prevailing issue throughout. Our politicians have to realise just how crucial the December trading period is. In fact, around a third of the profit to sustain the sector across the rest of the year is usually made during this time.

Much talk has been made about saving jobs and protecting businesses over winter, but without increased financial support which reaches bank accounts in a timely manner, many businesses simply will not make it to spring and beyond.

The Executive must also recognise that all our hotels, restaurants and pubs have been operating under severe restrictions and have been in lockdown for a much longer period than any other sector, and unlike others, have not had a chance to secure some income to help them through this further closure.

The hospitality sector simply cannot remain in lockdown forever – even the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride has recognised this.

But without adequate financial support and the opportunity to reopen in a sustainable manner as soon as possible, the reality is that the hospitality sector that operates in Northern Ireland from 2021 and beyond will be greatly diminished.

:: Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster

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