Colin Neill: New Year brings fresh opportunity to support our hospitality sector

Happy new year celebration concept theme with close up on two glasses of champagne, disco ball covered in mirror, noise makers and party trumpets, confetti, beads and a cork on silver background
Colin Neill

THE busiest trading period of the year for hospitality businesses has now ground to a relative halt as many reset and think about their own household budgeting and start their News Years’ resolutions.

Over this cold festive period that has been difficult for everyone, and despite the burden of a cost-of-living crisis, it was evident that people still wanted to get out and enjoy time with friends and family. Whether that was meeting for a pint, a bite to eat or both, the support given to the local hospitality businesses was a really welcome sight and something that gave hope to the business owners and staff as they face an uncertain future of a recession.

Although the hospitality sector has been alive and busy over the Christmas period, profitability continues to take a hit. The entire sector is experiencing protracted pressure in terms of rocketing energy prices and increased food costs which means that at face value, pubs and restaurants aren’t generating profit and are simply breaking even.

Businesses have done their best not to pass on these cost pressures to consumers who have been so supportive and loyal to their local hospitality businesses over what has been one of the most challenging periods we have seen to date.

With a spirit of optimism, we must look ahead and focus on 2023, planning for improvements that are within our control. While the cost of doing business and economic pressures on the public will remain alongside a looming recession, we are hopeful that with the right support, we can return to some degree of ‘normal’ in the hospitality sector as the winter thaws and the pandemic is confined to the history books.

Since this is a sector that pre-covid contributed £2 billion annually to the local economy and provided employment for tens of thousands of people, it is vital that the health of the sector returns this year after such a protracted downturn. The new year provides the opportunity for renewed energy and a fresh impetus to how we approach the sectors which drive our economy.

We have to remain hopeful that in the coming months the power-sharing institutions can get up and running again so that an Executive can be installed, and Ministers can make decisions. Incoming Ministers must realise that hospitality holds the key to reinvigorating and reigniting the economy. Vacancies, debt, energy costs, and the ongoing struggle just to break even must be addressed to protect businesses and restore consumer confidence.

It is time that this abnormal trading environment is met with an extraordinary response of practical support for businesses.

A new year brings with it fresh opportunity to turn over a new leaf, and in the words of Robert Burns, “we’ll take a cup of kindness yet”.

Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster