Colin Neill: New hospitality charter brings focus to our people asset

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons helps launch the Hospitality Employers Charter with (from left) Bill Penton (Penton Publications), Stephen Magorrian (Horatio Group), Mairead McEntee (Ulster University), Cathy Stevenson (Babcock Training) Michael Deane (Deane's Restaurants), Colin Neill (Hospitality Ulster) and Mark Rice (Belfast Metropolitan College). Picture: Darren Kidd/PressEye
Colin Neill

LAST week marked a turning point for the hospitality sector as all remaining restrictions were lifted, allowing businesses to start out on the long road to recovery.

Over the past two years, the hospitality sector has faced untold pressure with tough restrictions and periods of closure.

Now, worry shifts to the huge debt burden - caused by these closures and restrictions - along with the increases in energy costs, labour shortages, rates and rising supply chain costs at a time when we should be making the most of the new found freedom.

But we cannot let these issues, of which some are beyond the control of the sector, hold us back any longer. Now we are looking for the light at the end of the tunnel and must grasp the new opportunities and use this time to revitalise.

Last year, in the midst of one of the lockdown periods, we brought forward an industry led plan for change and recovery for the hospitality sector which set out policy levers that could be pulled to assist the industry to retain its position as one of the leading economic drivers for Northern Ireland. A vital part of this plan is a dedicated strategy to rebuild and grow our hospitality industry.

As we come out of two year of restrictions, hospitality businesses have taken time to take stock and realise that customers and consumer trends have changed since 2019.

This means businesses need to be innovative in their offering, which might mean enhancing the customer experience, changing drink and food menus, and widening the entertainment offering. All of this involves investment and creativity to succeed. It also requires good people.

We must also focus on retaining staff and promoting hospitality as an exciting career for people of all ages.

As the industry representatives, Hospitality Ulster recently developed the Hospitality Employers Charter so that businesses can demonstrate their commitment to training and developing staff.

The charter, which many of the leading hospitality businesses across Northern Ireland have signed, shows the industry’s commitment to focus on the people who make hospitality the thriving industry it was pre-pandemic.

Our sector is intent on moving forward, through change and innovation, and building back to the success that we once enjoyed. There is no denying that we are at the very early stages of this renaissance, but the sector is resilient and adaptable.

We are committed to these changes, and our staff, and this next chapter will show the determination of the sector to progress beyond the last years of devastation.

Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster

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