Recovery of hospitality requires targeted approach by Belfast and London governments

Colin Neill

UNLIKE most other Northern Ireland businesses, the hospitality industry has been operating under punitive restrictions which have denied many a chance to bring down debt built up during lockdown.

Indeed, many are still trading at a loss or only just opening and will struggle to survive without a focused approach from both Westminster and Stormont.

Now is the time for focus on the actions that need to be undertaken, and levers that can be pulled, to help businesses survive and provide opportunities for the industry to grow back to its former position as a major player of our economy.

Earlier this year, Hospitality Ulster published its industry led Recovery Plan which outlined steps that can be taken that will support businesses to get back on their feet, and, in turn, aid the economic bounce back. Six months on, the document and the ideas within it are as relevant as ever.

Measures including an extension of the business rates holiday for hospitality businesses by the Executive and a retention of the 12.5 per cent hospitality VAT rate which was introduced in March 2021 are essential. Both of these have been a lifeline for businesses who are struggling with inflated bills, rising overheads and growing debt.

We urgently need a dedicated hospitality strategy developed in partnership with the industry. In return, our sector will rebuild with the same enthusiasm and pride, to regain the position as Northern Ireland's fourth largest private sector employer pre-covid.

We will rethink the hospitality offer to bring in new ideas and present options and opportunities for both customers and investors to add to the offer of our bars, nightclubs, restaurants and cafes through thinking local, sustainably and outside of the box as we move ahead.

There is no doubt that the next few months are make or break for the hospitality industry as we hopefully move away from the challenges of the past nineteen months and push forward into a new period of recovery.

Our sector is resilient, and I am sure that if the right pathway is set and actions are put in place, we will thrive once again.

:: Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster

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