Vital hospitality sector needs and merits our support to ensure survival and protect jobs

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has given the hospitality sector real encouragement by reducing VAT to five percent until January 2021. A reduction in VAT is something that we have wanted to see for years now, particularly since hospitality and tourism in the Republic of Ireland pay significantly lower rates of VAT. Taste of Ulster members have welcomed the new package of lower VAT which it is hoped will encourage diners to return, safely, to restaurants and to take short breaks at home. Our restaurants and hotels certainly need and deserve this long-awaited support.

What this important package promises is a cut of VAT on food, accommodation and attractions from 20 percent to just five percent, for 6 months. This is a significant reduction and Taste of Ulster has actively supported Hospitality Ulster in pressing the Treasury for a VAT cut to enable Northern Ireland to compete with the Republic of Ireland.

Tourism, of course, has been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak and this year I would urge people to holiday at home.

There is also a new ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme for the month of August. This entitles diners to a 50 percent discount of up to £10 per head on their meal between Monday and Wednesday. I hope that people here will grasp the opportunity and in greater numbers enjoy the creative, delicious dishes from talented chefs in our network of excellent restaurants. They need our support now more than ever now.

Many have also invested heavily to meet social distancing requirements so we can dine safely. I’ve loved being able to eat out again with friends. It’s something I’ve missed enormously over the past three months.

These schemes offer unprecedented support for a key sector, over 80 percent of which was forced to cease trading in March as a result of Covid-19, resulting in the closure of several businesses and over two million workers in the sector on furlough.

I urge readers to respond positively and thereby help re-inspire a sector which employs thousands of people here and ensure as many companies in the sector are in a position to benefit when confidence and tourism eventually return.

We have a globally rated hospitality sector. As has been shown from regular research, holiday decisions are influenced strongly by the reputation of a potential destination for excellent food and drink. And around a third of a tourist’s holiday budget has typically been spent on food and drink.

The chancellor’s package will also benefit our food and drink suppliers to the hospitality sector. Many have been badly hit during the lockdown and have adapted imaginatively to the challenges that resulted. Food NI fervently hopes these measures will lead to a significant boost in demand for manufacturers here who supply into hospitality and thereby safeguard businesses and protect employment. They will also hope to see a recovery in hospitality.

Much of course will depend on consumers recovering confidence and being willing to eat out again and return to our wonderful visitor attractions. I for one think if we are vigilant and follow sensible precautions as advised by the Good to Go scheme that we can do good by supporting our local restaurant sector.