Westminster focus key to unlocking potential of hospitality sector

Former US President Bill Clinton, speaking in Belfast last month, said: “It’s time to get this show on the road”
Former US President Bill Clinton, speaking in Belfast last month, said: “It’s time to get this show on the road”

THE focus of the world turned to Northern Ireland last month as Presidents, Prime Ministers, Taoiseachs, Senators, and Ambassadors, both past and present, joined us to mark 25 years of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

Over the course of two weeks, we were reminded of how far we have come. There was also an all too real sense of missed opportunities, stagnation, and just how far we have left to go.

As political and business leaders, and all those who played a part in brokering peace here leave us once again, it is up to us to look ahead, get to work, and carve out a future for ourselves that will see Northern Ireland prosper.

If the last month has taught us anything, it is that we work better together. This is why I am looking forward to leading a Trade NI delegation to Westminster in the coming weeks.

Trade NI is an alliance made up of Hospitality Ulster, Retail NI, and Manufacturing NI, and its Westminster reception has become a successful staple in the calendar, providing a strong and visible presence, and an even stronger voice from our business and political leaders who are given the opportunity to highlight the challenges within our industries, as well as the abounding opportunities for growth.

To echo the words of Senator George Mitchell just a few weeks ago, Northern Ireland is a good place, and its people are good people: “energetic, hard-working, hospitable”. It is this sentiment that we will endeavour to reiterate in Westminster as we present a number of key asks to the British Government on issues that are not devolved to Northern Ireland.

We need to see a reduction in the rate of VAT for hospitality and tourism which currently places us at a competitive disadvantage in sharing a land border with the Republic of Ireland.

The current non-domestic rating system also hinders investment and penalises businesses that are successful, and abolishing domestic air passenger duty would go a long way in supporting the domestic tourism market across the UK. But for Northern Ireland to truly prosper, we need the return of the Assembly and Executive, and a dedicated hospitality strategy.

Recent visits by dignitaries from all around the world have made it abundantly clear that Northern Ireland is a place to do business, invest and live in. This also means having a good time. The hospitality industry should not be underestimated in the role that it plays in making Northern Ireland an attractive investment location.

Our sector plays a huge role in Northern Ireland’s economic development in its own right; and in collaboration with our colleagues in manufacturing and retail, I am confident that we can bring influence, impact, and deliver real change for Northern Ireland and its people.

However, a lifeless Stormont will only thwart our efforts, and obstruct our progress and so I will second recent remarks from another political heavyweight, Bill Clinton and reiterate that “it’s time to get this show on the road.”

:: Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster