Hospitality sector set to lose up to 16m over Easter period as anger grows

Hospitality sector set to lose up to 16m over Easter period as anger grows

23 March 2016

A snapshot survey of the membership of Hospitality Ulster has uncovered that the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland is expected to lose up to £16 million in potential revenue over the Easter period.

The survey, which was conducted in partnership with accountancy firm BDO Northern Ireland, demonstrates a significant loss of revenue across pubs, hotels and restaurants during the Easter weekend. The stark findings highlight the impact of our out of date liquor licensing laws at a time when the industry needs to be supported.  

The Hospitality Ulster snapshot survey found that lost revenue over the Easter period is expected to be:

  • Pubs £12.1m (Average expected loss £9,251 across 1,309 pubs)
  • Hotels £1.6m (Average expected loss £10,575 across 152 hotels)
  • Restaurants £2.1m (Average expected loss £3,859 across 559 restaurants)

Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster said today:

“We are on the ground speaking with a range of members on a daily basis and the level of anger about the restrictive trading hours over the Easter period is something that I have not witnessed in recent years.

The industry is now at boiling point. There is anger about losing out on potential revenue; anger about losing trade to the Republic of Ireland in the border areas; and anger that the NI Assembly has left this issue hanging by not bringing forward the Bill that would modernise liquor licensing here.

We are an industry that creates wealth, gives jobs to people and pays a significant amount of tax. We are one of the biggest players in the economy in Northern Ireland and cannot sustain working under such draconian legislation. It’s a crazy situation when alcohol is still available to purchase in supermarkets and off-sales (with the exception of Easter Sunday) as early as 8am in the morning but not in a place that is safe and regulated – the pub.

The industry is respectful of religious belief in relation to the sale of alcohol during this period, but the debate has moved on. It is no longer a black and white issue. It is about accepting that alcohol can be bought, but making sure that the entire hospitality sector can benefit. At the minute, the sector finds Easter a particularly difficult and frustrating period as business is going elsewhere.

We need to take a serious look at this issue and bring ourselves in line with the rest of the destinations that we are in competition with. Our outdated approach to Easter means that we are turning domestic visitors and tourists away to other places and cities, and continue to encourage drinking in the home which has been at a dangerous level for some time.

The NI Assembly must bring forward the updated Liquor Licensing Bill to modernise our outdated approach before we pass up on many more millions of pounds in lost revenue. We are an industry that employs 45,000 people in food and drink alone and it can no longer be accepted that our prohibitive laws cannot change.”

Brian Murphy, Advisory Partner, BDO Northern Ireland said:

 “Over the last year, the hospitality sector has begun to see signs of optimism with levels of disposable income increasing and a greater level of customer confidence within the market. However, despite this fact, the industry continues to be faced with financial pressures with the impending increase in the National Living Wage from 1st April, which is due to have a material effect upon the sector.

“The restrictions placed on the trade through the current Liquor Licensing system adds further pressure to operators, with the results of the Hospitality Ulster survey demonstrating the extent to which the sector will lose out financially over the Easter period. Furthermore, the hospitality and tourist trade in Northern Ireland is in direct competition with the Republic and it is essential that the industry is given comparable laws in order to compete as a tourist destination of choice.

“We are only too aware of what a key economic driver the hospitality and tourism sector is to Northern Ireland. We saw last week the emphasis the Chancellor put on the sector in his Budget Statement. The same attention should be afforded to it by the Northern Ireland Assembly. We believe that local government should seek to create conditions in which businesses can flourish and create job opportunities, instead our existing licensing laws appear to be restricting growth within this sector.”