Hospitality Ulster has said that Northern Ireland's hospitality sector is expected to lose up to £300 million this Christmas.
In a statement published on its website, Hospitality Ulster said, "The hospitality sector in Northern Ireland is expected to rack up massive losses of up to £300 million in trade over the Christmas period due to the impact of the latest COVID variant and mixed messaging from government which has driven away custom during what is normally the busiest time of the year.
"The findings from the latest Hospitality Ulster survey shows that the trading position of its members is deteriorating sharply with particularly dire findings for the week commencing 13th December 2021. It found:
- "Serious financial implications for the industry with an expected £250million to £300million in losses over the Christmas period
- "Almost all members have been negatively affected by COVID measures and increasing uncertainty around what, if any, new measures/restrictions might be introduced with the arrival of the Omicron strain of the virus
- "At least 1 in 3 members have seen sales fall by more than 50% in the last week alone
- "The extent of the impact is widening and deepening. For example, twice as many members are reporting a drop in food sales of more than 50% in the week commencing 13th December 2021; compared to 39% w/c 15th November 2021; and 18% when the COVID pass was first introduced.
Get a FREE Digital Subscription!Enjoy full access to Hospitality Ireland, our weekly email news digest, all website and app content, and every digital issue.
"Fears are now growing about what additional measures the Executive will heap on the sector when it meets tomorrow. Hospitality Ulster has said that the new figures and findings are absolutely shocking and that the Executive now needs to bring forward compensation.
"Some in the sector have been forced to take the decision to close their premises over the Christmas period due to staffing issues, cancellations and overall down turn in trade. Other findings in the latest Hospitality Ulster survey in the week beginning 13th December 2021 show:
- "1 in 3 members (35%) said that beverage sales had contracted by more than 50%;
- "2 in 5 (39%) stated that food sales were down more than 50%;
- "and almost half of those with accommodation (46%) said that accommodation sales had contracted by more than 50% compared to the same week in 2019.
"Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster, said, 'These latest figures are absolutely horrific and show that the entire sector is in a state of emergency. The feedback we are getting is horrendous, some have told us they are preparing for liquidation. The situation we are in will obliterate livelihoods.
"'The Executive needs to let us know right way what the plan is. The mixed messages are having a catastrophic impact. We are open but not trading and our politicians need to decide now how to arrest this decline into financial ruin. We are once again fighting for survival and trying our best to keep staff employed. Our sector is running out of time. We have hospitality business owners crying their hearts out during media interviews - what sort of situation is that to be in? This is the fourth largest private sector employer we are talking about here. These people need help, they need compensated.
"'Based on feedback from our latest survey, our industry will expect to make losses of between £250 million to £300 million. We have literally been sacrificed due to the lack of action by the Executive. There now needs to be compensation for this situation created outside of our control.
"'The only other option, if no support is forthcoming, is that the Executive will allow for the collapse of the hospitality industry.'
"Comments from hospitality business owners in latest Hospitality Ulster members survey:
"Hospitality Business Owner Comment 1
"'We are preparing ourselves for liquidation if we don’t get help asap. We can’t possibly absorb any more debt than we already have.'
"Hospitality Business Owner Comment 2
"'Totally off the scale this week. A real lack of footfall, considerably down. All Xmas parties that we had bookings for were either completely no shows or 50-60% of the booked party didn’t turn up. Extra staff required every day to enforce passport checks. All customers complaining about being checked totally unfair on our industry. Yet again we face a bleak future in the months ahead.'
"Hospitality Business Owner Comment 3
"'Cancellations are only reason phone ringing - how do we pay our staff - the few loyal staff we have left? No support. No guidance. No hope.'"
Visit Belfast Wins UK Excellence Award For Its Sustainable Tourism Drive
In other Northern Ireland hospitality sector news, Visit Belfast has won a UK Excellence Award for its sustainable tourism drive.
An statement announcing the news said, "Visit Belfast's commitment in driving tourism growth in a new and sustainable way has been recognised by Britain's leading body of conference organisers.
"In a major first for the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers (ABPCO) and the destination marketing organisation for the Belfast City Region, Visit Belfast came out on top to secure its inaugural Corporate and Social Responsibility award at its annual Excellence Awards 2021 in London.
"Visit Belfast won over the judges with the city's renewed drive towards a more regenerative tourism model, pipping Edinburgh's International Conference Centre (EICC) and P&J Jive, Aberdeen's state-of-the-art event complex - two of the UK conference industry’s most progressive sustainability heavyweights - to the title.
"Revealing the APBCO 2021 Excellence Award winners at London's ExCel, the judges commended Visit Belfast for the 'extent, commitment, impact and inclusivity' shown in delivering a suite of initiatives that put sustainability first and how the city had adapted and reimagined its approach to tourism in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Within the year, Visit Belfast worked in partnership with Belfast City Council to develop the city's first sustainable tourism and impact plan, launched the largest ever Green Tourism partnership with a city to support businesses on the road to sustainability and established a new events framework to help event organisers deliver more sustainable events in Belfast.
"Visit Belfast chief executive Gerry Lennon said, 'Belfast's resilience and dynamism is clear as the city continues to innovate at a local, national and international level and I'm delighted that our commitment and collective actions have been duly recognised at the highest level within the business events sector.
"'Tourism has been a catalyst for regeneration in Belfast, supporting thousands of jobs and livelihoods, and we are working hard to ensure that as we rebuild the city's tourism economy in an inclusive and sustainable way, the sector continues to deliver positive outcomes for not only our tourism and hospitality businesses, but our residents, communities and visitors for many years to come.'"
"Earlier this year, Belfast was ranked as one of the world's Top 20 sustainable destinations across 73 cities in the 2021 Global Destinations Sustainability Index. The GDS-Index is the world’s largest sustainability performance improvement and benchmarking programme for destinations.
"Setting a lead within its own operations this year, Visit Belfast became a certified organisation with a Green Tourism standard, rolling out sustainability training to all staff and Board members, creating a new sustainability and impact role within the company, establishing a Visit Belfast sustainability team and developing sustainability blogs, toolkits and practical support to help local event organisers and delegates make more sustainable choices.
"Visit Belfast is also developing a network of local CSR partners and projects to support conferences and events held in the city. Next year, around one third of all conferences in Belfast will have a sustainability plan - a figure it is targeting will grow to 80 percent by 2025.
"Visit Belfast Corporate Partner ICC Belfast also achieved success at the ABPCO annual Excellence Awards event, securing an Innovation award for its work on 'The Virtual Delegate' LinkedIn live series in conjunction with David Meade which successfully demonstrated how organisations can maximise virtual, hybrid and in-person events to engage people and clients.
"Meetings industry leaders joined David in helping to lead the sector affect transformational change."
Invest NI Appoints Interim Chief Executive
Additionally, Invest NI has announced the appointment of an interim chief executive.
In a statement published on its website, Invest NI said, "The Board of Invest Northern Ireland is pleased to announce the appointment of Mel Chittock, currently Executive Director, Finance & Operations, as interim Chief Executive with immediate effect. This follows Kevin Holland’s notification of his intention to step down from the role.
"Commenting on the appointment, Rose Mary Stalker, Chair of Invest NI, said, 'On behalf of the Board, I would like to congratulate Mel on his appointment. We look forward to working with him, and the wider Executive Leadership team, in the coming months, as we undertake the process to recruit a permanent Chief Executive.
"'Mel is an experienced and strong leader with over 20 years' experience in economic development who will lead the organisation through the current challenging economic environment.
"'During this period, he will help shape the organisation and maximise our efficiency and effectiveness to strategically align with, and operationally deliver the 10X Economic Vision and future economic realities.'
"Mel Chittock said, 'It has been a challenging time, for businesses and the economy, particularly over the past two years. I hope to continue the good work that Kevin has done, and look forward to working with my colleagues in ELT, the Board, and the Department to ensure Invest NI’s capacity and capability is fit for future purpose.
"'We have already done so much to help businesses emerge from the recent challenges and to grasp new opportunities. I am confident we can continue to build on this and, through our continued support to businesses our partnership working, do even more to help grow the NI economy.'"
Below news by Reuters, edited by Hospitality Ireland.
UK's Johnson Rules Out New COVID-19 Curbs Before Christmas
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday December 21 that he would not be introducing new COVID-19 restrictions in England before Christmas, but the situation remained extremely difficult and the government might need to act afterwards.
Britain has reported record levels of COVID-19 cases over the past week as the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads, and hospitalisations are also rising.
Johnson held a more than two-hour meeting with his cabinet to discuss the latest COVID-19 data on Monday December 20. Media reported several ministers had pushed back against the prospect of new curbs before Christmas, despite warnings from some scientists.
"We don't think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas," Johnson said in a video posted on social media.
Uncertainty remained around how likely people were to need hospital treatment after being infected with Omicron, compared to previous variants, as well as the impact of booster doses of vaccines, which are being rolled out rapidly.
"We can't rule out any further measures after Christmas," Johnson added. "We continue to monitor Omicron very closely and if the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed."
The idea of further restrictions is unpopular among Conservative lawmakers, more than 100 of whom last week voted against the introduction of new COVID-19 rules, leaving Johnson reliant on the support of the opposition Labour Party.
British media had previously reported that temporary curbs, lasting between two weeks and a month, were more likely to be introduced in England after Christmas. These could include a ban on households mixing indoors and limits on the numbers who can meet outdoors.
Earlier on Tuesday December 21, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon set out plans for post-Christmas restrictions on large-scale events in Scotland, including the cancellation of public New Year's Eve celebrations, as well as restricting bars and restaurants to table service.
Johnson said that while people could go ahead with their Christmas plans, he urged them to be cautious and follow advice such as keeping windows open and taking a test before visiting elderly or vulnerable relatives.
UK Offers £1bn To Firms Hit Hardest By Omicron
Additionally, Britain announced on Tuesday December £1 billion of extra support for businesses hit hardest by the wave of Omicron variant coronavirus cases, which is hammering the country's hospitality sector and other businesses.
Finance minister Rishi Sunak said he was confident the measures would help hundreds of thousands of businesses. But he added that he would "respond proportionately and appropriately" if the government were to impose further restrictions to slow Omicron.
For now, hospitality businesses in England are not subject to any new legal restrictions despite a 60% surge in COVID-19 cases over the past week which has taken the number of infections to around 90,000 a day.
Bars and restaurants in Scotland will be restricted to table service only from Dec. 27 and public New Year's Eve celebrations will be cancelled.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was not enough evidence to justify new COVID-19 restrictions in England before Christmas, but the situation remained extremely difficult and the government might need to act afterwards.
"We can't rule out any further measures after Christmas," he said. "We continue to monitor Omicron very closely and if the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed."
Under the support announced on Tuesday December 21, hospitality and leisure businesses in England will be eligible for grants of up to £6,000 for each of their premises, accounting for almost £700 million of the new package.
The grants were equivalent to those provided to hospitality businesses when they were fully closed this year, the finance ministry said.
But unlike earlier in the pandemic, there will be no extra government help for workers who lose their jobs or have their hours cut. Britain's finance ministry said job vacancies were 50% higher than before the pandemic.
A fund to support cultural organisations would be boosted by £30 million, while £100 million would go to English local authorities for business support measures and £150 million to governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
On top of the £1 billion, the finance ministry said it would cover the cost of statutory sick pay for COVID-related absences, for up to two weeks per employee, for small and medium-sized companies across the United Kingdom.
Britain borrowed more than 300 billion pounds in the last financial year to help offset the hit to the economy from coronavirus and the government's lockdowns.
Figures from trade body UKHospitality published on Monday December 20 showed a 40% fall in takings over the weekend and deep gloom about the prospects for New Year's Eve.
"This is a generous package building on existing hospitality support measures to provide an immediate emergency cash injection for those businesses who, through no fault of their own, have seen their most valuable trading period annihilated," UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said.
However, the lack of help for workers in the hospitality sector was criticised by the Resolution Foundation think tank, which said low-paid workers losing their jobs would suffer a 70% drop in income, compared with a 20% fall under furlough.
"The scale of support to firms is sufficient only for a best-case scenario of a flash wave (of Omicron), while the lack of fresh support for workers leaves many at risk of major income falls in the weeks ahead," Resolution Foundation chief economist Mike Brewer said.
Article by Dave Simpson. Click subscribe to sign up for the Hospitality Ireland print edition.