Northern Ireland news

Ministers' `speculative and unnecessary comments' blamed for `obliterating festive trade'

Hospitality Ulster Chief executive Colin Neill said the past week `has been catastrophic for the industry'. Picture by Press Eye/Darren Kidd

STORMONT ministers have been told by the hospitality industry to "dial down comments" warning against socialising, as health chiefs try to slow Covid-19 infection rates.

Hospitality Ulster said businesses have seen a "massive drop" in footfall and "thousands of bookings cancelled".

It claims this as been driven by "the `work from home' message; comments that hospitality is `high risk' with the introduction of mandatory Covid-19 Vaccine Passports, coupled with comments made against festive socialising".

Bar, restaurant and hotel owners fear it "will obliterate festive trade", with bills mounting up but income falling and staff not getting the additional hours they depend on at Christmas.

"Hundreds of thousands of pounds of stock ordered before ministers began taking to microphones and social media will go to waste," Hospitality Ulster warned last night.

It calling on the Executive to ensure media comments are "not speculative or framed in a negative context" and asked for financial assistance for businesseses and staff.

Chief executive Colin Neill said the past week "has been catastrophic for the industry as we have seen a severe drop in footfall and thousands of cancellations for the Christmas period".

"This will do untold damage to the hospitality sector which relies on trade in the festive months to see them through the lean months of the new year.

"Comments like, `Covid passes are because hospitality is high risk', rather than a measure to make us `even safer', have dealt a real blow to the already struggling sector.

"The comments made, and language being used by Ministers, is causing customers to cancel reservations and be trepidatious about socialising during the Christmas period.

"This compounded with the work from home message is discouraging those who would usually be attending Christmas lunches and parties, poses a serious threat to many businesses.

"We have statements saying the Covid measures are to help keep us open, but the rhetoric says stay away from hospitality."

He said the Executive needs to give "a coherent message and support for the industry where needed".

"It is imperative that all Ministers realise the damage their words are causing and prioritise our sector in the months ahead."

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