Time to revitalise and renew our hospitality sector as restrictions set to lift

SOMETHING TO CHEER: Diners raise their glasses at a restaurant as Covid restrictions finally start to ease
Colin Neill

LAST week the Stormont Executive announced the lifting of some of the most punishing restrictions imposed on the hospitality sector over the past month, including the reopening of nightclubs, the removal of the mandatory Covid-19 Vaccine Certification for entry, except nightclubs, and the return of bar service.

This was a very welcome step forward for our industry providing real hope to many businesses for the first time in nearly two years.

This news has allowed hospitality the opportunity to transition into a new phase. One of recovery and revitalisation, without interruption or threat of closure. It's now time to work hard to reinstate our sector as one of the key drivers of the local economy.

We know that this pathway to recovery won't be plain sailing, and will present challenges to many business owners, but the outstanding resilience of the sector over the past two years highlights the grit and determination to push forward.

Now is the time for focus on the actions that need to be undertaken, and levers that can be pulled to help turn businesses around and provide opportunities for the industry to grow in the next few months.

As we showed just last week, our industry has never been in a more difficult position. Evidence showed that trade is down in over 96 per cent of businesses from 2019 and premises have had to close periodically or for good. This coupled with the rising cost base and significant overheads, has really highlighted the financial pressures felt across the sector. The looming energy crisis is a worrying development that will create further problems.

The survey showed the shocking reality of where the sector is and how the cycle of restrictions and closures has had a cataclysmic impact on businesses providing food, drinks and accommodation. Businesses responded that they were at breaking point, with many questioning if, and not when, they will be able to reopen again. This devastating industry feedback is a real wake-up call for many who had not realised the true extend of the damage of the punishing restrictions. It showed real action is required to support the hospitality sector.

As we move into the next phase, it is clear that a dedicated strategy must be brought forward by the Executive outlining how best to push forward the recovery of the hospitality sector.

Last year, Hospitality Ulster published its industry-led recovery plan which outlined steps that can be taken that will support businesses get back on their feet, and, in turn, aid the economic bounce back. Almost a year on, the document and the ideas within it are as relevant as ever.

Through a collaborative approach with Executive Ministers, with the right resources available, the sector will bounce back to its place with the Northern Ireland economy. Now is the time for this action to be implemented without delay.

:: Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster

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