Colin Neill: Christmas closure threat and Covid passes increase uncertainty for hospitality

What sort of Christmas can the north's hospitality sector expect?
Colin Neill

THE past week has brought further uncertainty as the hospitality sector becomes the focus for the grapple for solutions for rising Covid-19 numbers and pressures elsewhere.

Coming on top of Covid passes, remarks made by Executive ministers have heightened anxiety with staff and business owners alike as they are unsure about what happens next. They are concerned about whether they will be compensated and supported for having to take the hit once again.

Recent comments, made without the delivery of a detailed impact assessment or evidence base, are already having a detrimental impact on the hospitality sector.

We thought by now we might have been in the earliest stages of recovery, but we are seeing cancellations, questions over whether festive party opportunities will come, and customers stating they will not return under conditions imposed. This is really concerning for an industry which makes much of its annual trade over the Christmas period.

The industry has always obeyed the regulations and will continue to do so, but there is a palpable sense of anger amongst hospitality business owners that this time they are truly being hung out to dry without proper consideration for what this will do to the sector.

To have one of the leading economic drivers in such a position is unimaginable and the Executive must intervene to stabilise and give our industry a break.

Pre-pandemic we were contributing £2 billion a year to the economy and sustaining over 72,000 jobs. Currently, our business owners are looking to how we can ever get back to this place again.

Just a few weeks ago, businesses were hugely concerned by labour shortages, rising overheads such as energy bills, and ongoing supply chain issues. Now threatened with closure, how more can we take?

Comments made by politicians have reverberated across our sector in the past week and we are now seeking assurances from the government that closure is the last option.

However, operating under extra bureaucracy and further burden at the door and front of house means that with the added responsibility comes added cost.

Who do ministers think pays for all this? It’s the law of diminishing returns which could force many to just grind to a halt as fight for survival is lost.

Hospitality can no longer be the fall guy. Ministers need to engage and level with the sector, explaining the evidence base for their statements, bringing forward a special financial package and support measures to mitigate the impact of restrictions.

As we enter December, are we going to be facing another major Christmas season like the one before?

For the sake of businesses, staff and customers, I sincerely hope not.

:: Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster


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