Colin Neill: Restrictions putting pause on hospitality's survival chances

Colin Neill

AS I've written countless times before, hospitality needs to be given the best opportunity to recover from the past 18 months, and this can only be done with the lifting of all the covid restrictions and support.

If we remove those restrictions, the mountain hospitality businesses need to climb to get to a position of break-even, is already steep. The limitations imposed only further add to the strain being placed on the industry, and we are having to question just how many will survive if this goes on any longer.

For months, we have been working to ensure our businesses can remain viable as we slowly transition from total lockdown. The Recovery Plan, published by Hospitality Ulster in April, gives ample opportunity for the Executive to help kick-start the bounce back. Unfortunately, many of these ideas, solutions and actions, all proposed by the industry itself, have yet to be acted upon in any meaningful way.

Hospitality is primed to be a key driver in the ongoing recovery of the economy. Pre-pandemic we were contributing £2 billion a year to the economy, and as venues have reopened, the appetite is there with customers returning to their favourite bars, restaurants and hotels.

The reality however, due to restrictions, businesses are having to turn away customers and trade as table service and social distancing is impacting on numbers.

Last week, the Executive announced the lifting of some hospitality restrictions including the rule of six. This was a welcome move which allows for more opportunity for our venues and customers.

But it simply did not go far enough. The removal of all remaining restrictions must be brought in swiftly to allow for businesses to properly plan the next year of trading and how they can maximise their hospitality offering.

Once again, we have also been left without a clear date or directive on when these much needed changes can be made. A radical change in thinking is needed on how best to support the hospitality industry, as again, we are put on pause. This standstill is limiting growth and opportunities.

A proper plan to revitalise the industry must be brought forward, with clear actions and time scales on when and how businesses can move forward and make the necessary progress that will bring them back from the brink. Our offer to the Executive is to use the Hospitality Ulster recovery plan – all the hard work has been done.

This cycle of disappointment and concern is no longer acceptable. We are urging the Executive to work with us to explore and clarify the best way to move forward.

We are all pushing for the same goal, and hospitality, with its resilience workforce and excellent offerings, is ready to be a leading force in Northern Ireland’s economic build back. Just provide us the resources and flexibility to do so.

Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster

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