Business

Time scale and recovery roadmap essential as hospitality seeks festive period boost

What might this Christmas look like for the north's hospitality industry?
Colin Neill

AS we enter into the autumn and winter months, and hospitality looks to what is usually its busiest time, business owners are waiting for a clear directive to guide their Christmas plans.

Last Friday, we saw the welcome return of bar service and other incremental changes which have helped move hospitality further into the recovery stage, but it goes nowhere near far enough.

We have made repeated calls for a roadmap out of restrictions to be delivered that gives a specific time frame and measures that will allow for hospitality businesses to really plan ahead and begin their journey to recovery.

The stagnant stop-start of small incremental changes are not really that helpful and only fuel the hopelessness felt across the board in our sector.

Like our colleagues in other business settings, we are concerned about what will happen once government financial assistance ends, and businesses are left to deal with the pandemic losses alone.

Unlike other businesses, the hospitality sector continues to trade under punitive restrictions that has limited its capacity to reduce Covid debt and threatened their very survival.

A package of measures, including financial support, must be brought forward to assist the many who have relied upon it during such a lengthy closure and a number of false dawns.

The hospitality industry has the ability 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 sustaining over 72,000 jobs. These figures can be replicated again, with the right support from the Executive.

But the feeling currently within the sector is one of isolation with a question to whether those in Stormont Castle making the decisions, are really on board with aiding the sector, and in turn the economy.

Traditionally, this time of year is the most important for the hospitality industry as we gear up for the Christmas season. However, this year businesses are left shaking their heads and wondering what the festive period will look like.

This is hindering planning, and anxiety is growing in business owners who might run out of preparation time for the months they need to make some profit. This period ultimately sustains them in the leaner months of the new year.

Last year, we had a disastrous Christmas period, with business severely curtailed or closed. This year, there must be thorough engagement and an action plan on how the industry can work through Christmas and capitalise on steady trade to help in their recovery efforts.

We should not be here. There has been ample time for engagement and planning. It is unacceptable that once again we are left waiting and wondering what will come next. The Executive must meet with our sector, create the plan, provide dates, and allow it to be implemented.

:: Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster

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