In the space of just a few weeks, Northern Ireland’s hospitality sector has gone from a burgeoning core of the economy, to effectively, shutting up shop amid the coronavirus crisis. Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, outlines what’s needed from government to ensure the doors open once again
When the coronavirus pandemic reached our shores, it was clear that the hospitality industry was going to be the first hit, worst hit, and last to reopen. Our industry thrives on social interaction – enjoying time with friends, family and even total strangers.
We have seen some fantastic innovation during the lockdown period; for example some restaurants have been able to offer limited home delivery of their product, pubs have continued to engage with their local communities through live streams and online entertainment – but in comparison to the retail industry we are extremely limited to what we can do to continue in business when we are physically separated from one another.
We have been grateful for the government intervention and support measures which Hospitality Ulster lobbied hard for in the early days of this pandemic. In fact, Hospitality Ulster continues to work around the clock to ensure nobody misses an opportunity to put food on their staff’s tables.
Sadly, we still have a score of businesses who have received zero help since they were forced to close their doors. To sustain this closure, frankly, the industry needs additional help.
But to move forward and reopen? To rebuild our industry in a socially distanced environment? We need government to work with us. Until such times as social distancing measures allow our industry to be sustainable, there is sadly no point in reopening just to go broke.
If that were the case, the industry might as well have just gone broke over seven weeks ago before any government intervention was introduced.
Government must continue their interventions whilst planning alongside the industry to introduce social distancing rules together, in a manner which is sustainable to our businesses.
Going forward, Hospitality Ulster will continue to fight to ensure our members’ voices are heard. We will continue to fight to protect an industry worth £1.9bn to the economy, sustaining 65,000 jobs and providing the backbone of our tourism industry.
As we move into the critical phase of the path out of lockdown, government must work with us to create rules which protect our staff, and our customers – in addition to making businesses financially viable. Only then will there be any point in attempting to reopen.