Hospitality facing fresh crisis as staff quit to pursue new careers

Hospitality in Northern Ireland has seen hundreds of staff permanently move away from the sector to other jobs
Hospitality in Northern Ireland has seen hundreds of staff permanently move away from the sector to other jobs

WHILE hotels, bars and restaurants have been basking in a frenzied return of customers since Covid restrictions were eased in Northern Ireland four months ago, the hospitality industry is staring down the barrel of a staffing crisis, a new survey shows.

Thousands of workers in the sector, most of whom spent the best part of a year on furlough, have chosen to quit their jobs in hospitality and pursue new careers.

And allied to acute rises in business costs and a general lack of confident in the sector, it is hampering growth and has placed hospitality in a precarious position.

That's according to a sentiment survey undertaken by BDO NI and Hospitality Ulster between June 29 and July 22.

It found that three quarters (74 per cent) of Northern Ireland’s hospitality sector continue to struggle with staffing issues, as the impact of Covid-19 has further intensified recruitment concerns.

Even prior to the pandemic, the industry faced significant labour challenges, but Covid has led to an increased skills shortage, which has seen many move away from the industry permanently, leaving a shortfall that businesses are simply unable to deal with.

And the 45 per cent of recipients who indicated that they intend to invest in the next six months say there needs to be a concerted effort to address this recruitment shortfall otherwise they will abandon their plans.

Among other findings, four out of five businesses across the industry see rising business costs as a significant risk while less than half (42 per cent) feel confident about their future prospects.

Brian Murphy, managing partner at BDO NI (he also chairs the Hospitality Industry Group) said: “The pandemic has had a dramatic impact on us all, both socially and economically, and it is only through great sacrifices that we have been able to progress to the point now where there is the potential of getting back to a new normal.

“Faced with the challenges of the last 16 months, it's heartening to see that businesses, employees, suppliers, banks and government have all come together to work in partnership to plot a course through the pandemic.

“But with so much investment of time, money, and effort to get to this point, it would be a further tragedy if we were to allow businesses to fall at this final hurdle.”

Hospitality Ulster head Colin Neill said: “The future sustainability of our entire industry is at risk. Many businesses have burnt through cash reserves and any government support they could get, and we are still being denied the ability to be fully open, unhindered, and trading at a viable level.

“This, coupled with rules around staff isolation policy, is also creating a significant burden on being able to open at a time when we should be building back and placing emphasis on the recovery and revitalisation.”

He added: “An accelerated pathway out of the pandemic is now imperative, because our sector is far too important to the local economy to not be given the attention it requires by the Executive. We urgently need a dedicated hospitality recovery strategy.”