Posted on Thursday 17 January 2013 by Ulster Business


Pubs of Ulster's Colin Neill met with Arlene Foster and Simon Hamilton at Stormont to discuss the problems facing the hospitality sector

Pubs and bars have reported an average 30% drop in trade since the start of protests over the flying of the Union flag, with some seeing business down by as much as 55% in recent weeks, according to trade body Pubs of Ulster.

That statistics were presented at a private meeting between Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster and representatives of Northern Ireland's hospitality sector, who warned that up to 300 jobs in the industry could be lost in Belfast by the end of the week if the on-going flag protests continue to affect the local economy.

The delegation of representatives from the hospitality sector voiced their concerns for the future of thousands of local businesses to Mrs Foster and Simon Hamilton MLA.

Pubs of Ulster revealed that pubs, restaurants and hotels are suffering as a result of the flag protests, with people not going out and visitors opting to avoid towns and cities.

In real terms, this means that the industry is currently suffering a dramatic drop in turnover, with one publican alone reporting a loss of £95,000 before Christmas and £60,000 after the Christmas period. With another local publican reporting that trade fell by 54% last week alone, representatives said they fear that the situation is showing no signs of improvement.

Colin Neill, chief executive of Pubs of Ulster, said: "The intention of the meeting was not to discuss the rights or wrongs of the protests. Instead, we wanted to use the meeting as an opportunity to voice our concern for the future of local businesses, especially within the hospitality sector, and look at how we can work together to try to get through the current difficulties.

"Our figures speak for themselves and it is clear that businesses cannot operate for very long in these conditions. Pubs, restaurants and hotels all rely on people leaving their homes, so if people don't go out, we lose out. Whilst we obviously need a political solution to the situation, we are now at a point where something has to be done and action needs to be taken to help the struggling evening economy. It's clear that there is a shared commitment to do what we can to protect the future of the industry, and we will continue to work closely with the Minister to ensure that all possible solutions are explored."

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said she shared the frustration of those in the hospitality sector and those of the wider business community.

"The hospitality industry has a very important role to play in giving Belfast the kind of 'buzz' and atmosphere that saw the city being voted one of the world's top destinations for 2012 by the National Geographic Traveller magazine. We spent a lot of time last year building up the image of Northern Ireland with our hugely successful NI2012 campaign. I will do everything I can to ensure a positive message continues to be delivered, because Northern Ireland is still a great place to live, work, invest and visit," she said.



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