Brexit uncertainty has hit Northern Ireland hotels
Three long years have passed since the Brexit referendum result was announced in the early hours of June 24, 2016. The date, forever etched in the political annals, has triggered a series of unprecedented political developments. Britain is now on its third prime minister.
We rushed to milestone Brexit dates only to limp away from them with no resolution in sight. We've entered a strange state of 'Bremaining' where we are torn between the political promise of Brexit and the desire to ensure a deal which has resulted in the need to remain.
Regardless of views during the run up to the referendum and the confusion of its aftermath, the one thing that has united the corporate community is that uncertainty is bad for business.
We've entered a state of limbo, lurching from one crisis to the next.
The hotel industry has experienced the stark reality of the effects of 'Bremaining'.
There has already been an exodus of talented people from the EU who have sought to find pastures new. Uncertain about their status in a post-Brexit environment, affected by the fall of sterling and keen to secure meaningful future careers, they have left in considerable numbers. Attracting skilled staff has always been and remains a challenge and it is one which Brexit has simply exacerbated.
Business is sluggish as people are not spending as readily as before. A number of key sectors in Northern Ireland have sounded alarm bells. Consumer confidence has taken a knock and our recent forecasts have been nuanced to reflect this.
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Hotels are seeing a shift in lead-times for booking and it's often a question of holding your nerve.
Business has been good over the summer but 'Bremaining' is casting a cloud on the final quarter of 2019.
The hotel sector has invested in the region of £600m over the last four years with room numbers at record levels.
As we approach a new decade, the wider tourism and hospitality industry is well-positioned to break the billion-pound mark and continue on an upward trajectory. As parliament does its own political version of the hokey cokey and returns to Westminster, let's hope clarity comes to the fore in the coming weeks.
'Bremaining' is quite simply bad for business and with 3.5 million hotel rooms to sell next year, we hope we can check into a clearer future.
Brexit will be a hot topic at this year's Hospitality Exchange with a review of business performance, an economic outlook and debate with industry leaders.
Hospitality Exchange, organised by Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, takes place on October 15 and 16 at Crowne Plaza, Belfast