Hospitality Ulster launches major post pandemic recovery plan

Pictured before distancing restrictions are (from left) Hospitality Ulster's Tony O’Neill (vice-chair) Colin Neill (chief executive) and Danny Coyles (chair). Picture: Kelvin Boyes/PressEye
Gary McDonald Business Editor

HOSPITALITY Ulster has launched a 'Three Rs' recovery plan which sets out to Rebuild the sector, Rethink the offer and Revitalise the economy.

It sets out a range of key interventions required from the Stormont Executive, including setting up a cross-departmental hospitality strategy steering group to plan the reopening of the industry.

And it also want a move away from the previous reopening strategy for pubs, bars, restaurants, accommodation providers and visitor attractions from “who can open - here are the rules” to “here are the rules, and those that can comply can open”.

The group is also calling for a flexible localised restrictions support scheme to aid businesses until full opening is viable, as well as a full business rates holiday for 2021/22 and a re-financing grant to kick start reopening.

Before the pandemic, the hospitality sector was the fourth largest private sector employer in the north, sustaining 72,000 jobs and boasting an annual turnover of £2 billion.

Its chief executive Colin Neill said: “The swift roll out of the vaccination programme and ever-declining new Covid case numbers are bringing us to the point where the reopening of the hospitality sector is now viable after nearly an entire year of being shut for the greater good.

“We need at least indicative dates for reopening, and we need them now. To make sure we are ready to go, we have brought forward a whole host of forward-thinking ideas to re-ignite the industry.

“We have to rebuild our sector and have set out a clear roadmap of policy, financial and fiscal interventions which supports a timely and safe reopening of the entire industry.

“We have to rethink about how we get out of lockdown and understand how we do business on one hand, and on the other, how we rise to the challenge of changing consumer trends which will undoubtedly lead to a re-shaping of the hospitality offer.”

He added: “When we get those elements right, then we will see just how important the sector is to the economy and that it will be a key component in its much needed revitalisation.”

Hospitality Ulster chair Danny Coyles added: “It has become clear just how central the hospitality sector is to the economy and society. It has such an important role in bringing people together and it will play a massive role once we get reopening dates put in front of us.

“This is now the opportunity when the Executive can help us help them, in the revitalisation of the beleaguered economy. The social and financial benefits that come from a vibrant hospitality sector are so important for the post pandemic recovery.”

Restaurateur Tony O’Neill, who owns Coppi & Buba, said: “The governments in Belfast and London need to seriously look at the long term viability of the hospitality sector, which needs to be set on a more sustainable footing so that we can compete in the local and international marketplace.

“This means that issues such as VAT and reducing the cost base for businesses in the sector should be prioritised. We need support to get back on our feet and then a series of commitments as outlined in this recovery plan to place the sector on a sounder footing.

“There is still far too much volatility in the running of a business in the hospitality sector and now we face the challenge of going again after nearly a full year of chairs up on the tables.”

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