NI trade body laments ‘worst trading performance in living memory’

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Desperate situation: Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill says the past month or so has possibly been the worst period during the entire pandemic
Desperate situation: Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill says the past month or so has possibly been the worst period during the entire pandemic

Related tags: Finance, Legislation, Social responsibility

Hospitality Ulster has branded business in the sector in Northern Ireland as the “worst trading performance in living memory” as half of businesses have suffered losses in excess of 50%, according to its latest survey.

The trade body has also expressed its disappointment that the proposed grant support, due to the sector for restricted opening and closure over what should have been a busy Christmas and new year period, has been delayed.

Hospitality leaders are now calling on the Executive government to provide the crucial grant assistance stating financial support and a dedicated recovery strategy is now vital because the industry is in a period of market failure and businesses face potential collapse across Northern Ireland.

The survey showed almost all members have been negatively affected by the government messaging on limiting contacts and the additional restrictions introduced on 22 December and brought into force on 26 December 2021 as a consequence of the emergence of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus virus, and at least one in two members have seen sales fall by more than 50% in the week commencing 27 December 2021.

Extent of impact continues to increase

The study also found the extent of the impact continues to increase – a fact supported an example that more than twice as many members are reporting a drop in beverage and food sales of more than 50% in the week commencing 27 December compared to the 15 November, which is when the Covid pass scheme was first introduced to Northern Ireland.  

The deterioration over the new year when the restrictions came into place are particularly striking in terms of the significant increase in the share of members reporting sales down by over 70%.

Meanwhile, about one in five members reported food and drink sales have fallen by more than 70% in the week commencing 27 December versus the same week in 2019. This is even higher for accommodation sales with 44% of hotels reporting that sales were down by over 70% for that week, reflecting a significant downturn also in food and beverage sales.

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said: “This has been the worst performance for the hospitality sector in living memory. The trading position has continued to deteriorate and the past seven to eight weeks has possibly been the worst period in the entire pandemic. This should have been the time of year that trade is swift but it has almost ground to a halt due to the restriction and fear of the spread of the Omicron variant.”

Dedicated recovery strategy is vital

Neill continued: “Time is of the essence as further debt is building in the early months of the new year. A good Christmas period would have taken care of the vast majority of the bills, however, this was not the case [in 2020] and certainly not the case [in 2021]. It is evident that financial support and a dedicated recovery strategy is now vital as we are in a period of market failure, facing the potential collapse of many businesses.

“While it is disappointing the latest financial support package has been delayed, we are in regular contact with government officials and are hopeful the much-needed financial assistance will be distributed to business owners across the hospitality sector in the next couple of weeks.

“We will meet with the economy minister to highlight the need to include hotels in the latest round of financial support, as many are food and beverage led, and are suffering the same impact of market failure. We are also working with government officials to secure additional financial support for nightclubs that are now legally required to close.

“As soon as the infection rate peaks, the Executive must make the decision to remove the punitive restrictions and support the industry as it rebuilds over the coming months and years.”

Related topics: Legislation

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