Northern Ireland’s hospitality sector is suffering a “catastrophic impact” due to a “massive number of cancellations and a drop in trade”, an industry chief has warned.
Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, was speaking after the organisation’s latest survey results revealed that one in four members (26%) have witnessed a 50% drop in food sales.
The findings came as the Covid certification system — which requires patrons to present proof of vaccination to enter nightclubs, pubs, restaurants and other licensed premises — became legally enforceable here on Monday.
Hospitality Ulster said the survey shows that since the announcement of mandatory proof of Covid status, members have experienced “huge losses”, adding they have been made a “scapegoat” over the situation.
Under the regulations, businesses that fail to administer the scheme will face fines ranging from £200 to £10,000.
Justice Minister Naomi Long has said the PSNI will take the lead in enforcing the scheme.
Mr Neill said: “Business owners are seeing sustained contraction of sales, forced by drop in footfall and immediate cancellations and feel like they have been left high and dry after being heaped with the responsibility of the Covid passport scheme.
“Even though penalties for the scheme kick in from today, we are still yet to see the economic impact assessment which has led to this decision.
“Where is the package of financial support?
“Is the hospitality sector being forced to carry the can for this Executive decision?”
The survey also revealed that one in four members — equivalent to 26% — said beverage sales have dipped by more than 50%.
More than half of members with accommodation (54%) said sales for that category had contracted by more than 50% compared to the same week in 2019.
Hospitality Ulster said survey results show immediate cancellations of bookings running up to the Christmas period in relation to corporate bookings — an issue that is continuing to escalate.
Respondents also believe the hospitality sector is the ‘fall guy’ or ‘scapegoat’, in spite of all of the investment it has made into measures to make sure that the environment is safe.
Some fear the prospect of job cuts, and don’t believe the hospitality sector can recover and will be “fundamentally changed.”
Mr Neill said the situation had been compounded by the Executive’s decision to change the legislation in relation to Covid entry requirements from “check as soon as reasonably possible” to “check at point of entry”.
He insisted this change will be “unworkable” for many businesses that operate a counter service business model, or venues that have several entrances.
“Most businesses do not have door staff and cannot afford to employ them even if they could find them. Where is the collaborative working? Where is the common sense approach?” said the industry chief.
“The Executive and the wider Assembly need to understand that repeated additional Covid measures are costing businesses in the hospitality sector and we are at breaking point.
“This coupled with a highly confusing message from government is destroying our industry.”
He added: “Hospitality businesses are the sacrificial lamb. If our staff are to go without wages, the Executive should at least be honest and tell us that.”
The Executive Office has been contacted for comment.