23 March 2021


Hospitality sector has faced a ‘living hell’ in last year, says Hospitality Ulster after PM lockdown milestone is reached.


The Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster has said that the last year has been a ‘living hell’ for the hospitality sector with business owners stating that hope of finding a way out is rapidly fading after chalking up huge losses with no end date in sight. 


Since the initial lockdown on 23rd March 2020, the sector has seen traditional pubs closed for all but 23 days and food-led hospitality businesses only allowed to open, under severe restrictions, for 119 days.


In the first lockdown the industry watched over 5 million pints metaphorically poured down the drain as waste, and over the last year, an estimated further 70 million pints and 60 million meals have gone unserved as the industry stacks up debts at a rate of £1m per day. It is now estimated that there has been a £1.4bn loss of income in 2020 and a further expected £500 million loss in the first quarter of 2021 which clearly shows that hospitality has been among the worst impacted, with additional support needed.


The comments come on the day which marks a full year since the Prime Minister Boris Johnson forced the hospitality sector to close down across the UK in an attempt to curtail the spiralling Covid numbers and infection rate. 


Now, one year on, Hospitality Ulster has said that enough is enough, and is calling on the NI Executive to give people hope and, at the very least, let them see the data keeping them closed and the criteria on which they will be allowed to reopen.


The organisation, which recently launched a sector led recovery plan, has also made it clear that immediate engagement with the body is imperative to ensure that the reopening is financially sustainable to avoid monumental levels of redundancies and business failures.


Hospitality Ulster has said that the lack of engagement on reopening plans to get the sector back on its feet again should be called into question. The organisation has said that it is very difficult to understand why non-essential retail is expected to open before the hospitality sector despite it being proven to be one of the most Covid secure environments.


Government must also learn lessons from the past year and reverse the previous reopening strategy, from; who can open ‘here are the rules’, to; ‘here are the rules and those that can comply can open’ - allowing all parts of hospitality to reopen in as much as they can - based on the existing protocols developed and approved by UK CMO, UK PHE and Cabinet Office and adopted in Northern Ireland to provide a robust set of controls to allow safe reopening.


Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster said:


“Today marks a full year since the Prime Minister made his statement in Downing Street directing the hospitality sector to close down, and with it, place in jeopardy the livelihoods of thousands of business owners and tens of thousands of staff across Northern Ireland. We had a good sense that this was going to be a very difficult situation, but we really had no idea that our sector would be locked down to the extent it has.”


“Business owners have spent tens of thousands of pounds in making their businesses Covid secure environments - some of the highest standards in the world. Yes, there have been a range of financial support packages put in place and we are really grateful, but they can never cover the costs of keeping buildings locked shut, leaving the individual businesses to find millions on pounds to stay afloat - resulting in spiralling levels of debt across the industry. We may all be in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat.”


“With next to no engagement since December, questions must be asked;


  • “Why does the health department not want to publish the criteria that must be met to allow us to reopen?”


  • “Do they think we are stupid and won’t understand? Maybe I am - but I have smart friends I can call on to explain it to me.”


  • “Is there another agenda within the health department aimed at our licensed premises - using the cover of the current restrictions to further an anti-alcohol agenda?”


“Our hospitality industry not only provides a Covid secure environment - our licensed premises also provide a strictly regulated environment for the consumption of alcohol. We are part of the solution to tackle illegal gatherings and house parties that spread Covid, plus, limiting the over consumption of alcohol that can damage health.”


“Business owners in the hospitality sector are the people who are working hard, creating jobs, paying taxes and generating wealth for the economy. So why are we denying them the courtesy of sharing the criteria on which decision to reopen (or not) is being taken. Saying that it is too complex and taken from too many sources for people to understand is very poor treatment.”


“The hospitality sector is so fragile at the minute that we can’t afford just to have doors open and then be severely curtailed and restricted to the point that it’s not financial viable. We have to remember that any revenue gained at reopening will only be going towards the offsetting of debt that has been accumulated over the least 12 months and beyond. Cash reserves, loans and borrowed money have been burnt through months ago and with increasing levels of employers contribution required for the likes of the furlough scheme in the coming months we are actually going head first into dire situation. Things will get worse before they get better.”


“How many more days must we wait until the health department share the criteria for reopening all our hospitality businesses?”


“How many more days must we wait until the Executive sit down with us to plan our reopening?”


“How many more days must we wait without hope?…it's now 365 days and counting.”