Survey lays bare crisis in hospitality

Customers show their Covid passport at the Morning Star in Belfast on Monday. Regulations are now legally enforceable and venues who breach them could face fines of up to £10,000
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE new Covid passport scheme had already led to booze sales in the north plummeting by more than 50 per cent - even before the threat of penalties kicked in yesterday.

And as hospitality faces into a “catastrophic” run-up to Christmas, industry bosses have re-iterated their fears of more job losses and potential closures.

A survey by the industry's representative body Hospitality Ulster of 300 premises of varying types and sizes over the last three weeks paints a grim picture of huge losses across all parts of the sector, including food and beverage sales and accommodation.

Respondents insist they've been made a scapegoat, and that “scaremongering” by Executive ministers and senior medical representatives has created a situation where customers are simply avoiding going out.

The survey findings, which have been analysed by an independent economist, show that since the mandatory ‘proof of Covid status' was announced three weeks ago, one in five members (21 per cent) said beverage sales had contracted by more than 50 per cent, while it was even higher for food sales (26 per cent).

And more that half of those within accommodation (54 per cent) said bookings had contracted by more than 50 per cent compared to the same week in 2019.

“Hospitality businesses are the sacrificial lamb,” Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said.

“The Executive and the wider Assembly need to understand that repeated additional Covid measures are costing businesses in our sector, and we are at breaking point.

“Coupled with highly confusing message from government, it is destroying our industry.”

There is the continued feeling among respondents that the hospitality sector is the “fall guy” in spite of all of the investment it has made in measures to make sure that the environment is safe.

Some respondents “don't believe the hospitality sector can recover and will be fundamentally changed.”

Other mention of “job cuts” and “reduced hours” and the “challenge of having to pay staff more because they have been hard to come by, then all of a sudden find business dropping away.”

Mr Neill added: “Business owners are seeing sustained contraction of sales, forced by drop in footfall and immediate cancellations and feel like they have been left high and dry after being heaped with the responsibility of the Covid passport scheme.

“Even though penalties for the scheme kick in from Monday, we are still yet to see the economic impact assessment which has led to this decision. Where is the package of financial support? Is the hospitality sector being forced to carry the can for this Executive decision?

“After two weeks of developing operational procedures and training of staff for the proof of Covid status, on the weekend before penalties begin, the legislation gets changed from ‘check as soon as reasonably possible' to ‘check at point of entry' - a change that will be unworkable for many businesses that operate a counter service business model, or venues that have several entrances.

“Most businesses do not have door staff and cannot afford to employ them even if they could find them. Where is the collaborative working? Where is the common sense approach?

“The Executive and the wider Assembly need to understand that repeated additional Covid measures are costing businesses in the hospitality sector and we are at breaking point. This coupled with a highly confusing message from government is destroying our industry.”

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