Business

Colin Neill: 'Industry-led hospitality strategy must be a priority for the next Economy Minister'

The ingredients for a dedicated hospitality strategy is already there for the next Economy Minister, according to Colin Neill.
Colin Neill

AS we enter the final weeks of the Assembly Election, and look to the possibilities of the new mandate, business leaders from across Northern Ireland will be hoping that a major focus will be on the economy and the key economic drivers such as the hospitality sector.

Post-election we need the Assembly to form; we need the Executive in place, and we need ministers working. This isn't just an aspiration, its essential as government support and policy delivery is central to developing sectors like ours in order for that economic growth to occur.

It's also really important in the face of challenges presented by rising costs. The entire hospitality industry is battling issues including supply chain uncertainty, increased VAT and rates bills, which despite any immediate alleviation, always remain a problem.

The labour shortages are also a problem that are instantly apparent, but we are working on ways in which the training and development of staff can be addressed.

These issues, coupled with rising inflation which forces a cap customer spend, has huge impact on hospitality businesses who are finding it difficult to drive forward their individual recovery plans.

Yes, trade is coming back, but it's tough going and from a low base due to the past two years. The cost base right now is completely out of kilter with what is achievable in terms of creating even a small profit.

As we move into the next mandate, a dedicated hospitality strategy must be brought forward by the Executive outlining how best to push ahead with the recovery of the whole industry.

Previously, Hospitality Ulster published an 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 economic growth.

The DNA for the development for a dedicated hospitality strategy is there for the taking by the next incoming Economy Minister from whatever party.

It needs to be hard-wired into the renewed programme for government as it can drive job creation, drive tourism and contribute heavily to the outcomes that are so badly needed for Northern Ireland.

This Easter proved that a dedicated effort to change outdated liquor licensing laws was possible.

It took a lifetime to get the changes passed, but the impact of that collective political effort has helped position this place better, not just for local customers, but the highly competitive international tourist market.

We wish the prospective candidates well at the forthcoming poll and encourage them to get back round the Executive table as quickly as possible with a dedicated hospitality strategy in hand.

Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster

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