Hospitality sector calls for workable indoor plan

Postponement of reopening indoor activities and a sketchy plan for admitting only vaccinated patrons shakes Ireland’s Covid-battered hospitality sector.

Industry groups representing businesses from across the experience economy – including bars, restaurants and hotels – have called for a workable plan for when indoor services can reopen.

The suggestion that future plans may include patrons having to prove they have been vaccinated have prompted dismay, confusion and consternation.

“Many businesses are concerned about the feasibility of an indoor dining system that prioritises fully vaccinated persons. It is imperative that business plays a central role in its development”

Yesterday (28 June) the Irish Government revealed its next phase of plans to reopen the Irish economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic but did so with caution due to fears around the Delta variant of the virus.

The much anticipated reopening of indoor dining and entertainment on 5 July has been postponed until 19 July pending advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).

In the measures, planned outdoor events can increase to 200 or 500 for stadia or venues with a capacity of over 5,000. Weddings are permitted up to 50 guests from 5 July but communions and confirmations will not take place until further notice.

Ireland will operate the EU Digital Covid Certificate from 19 July which will allow international travel if vaccinated or if a person has recovered from Covid in the past nine months. The public health advice is not to travel unless you are fully vaccinated.

Sector wants clarity

The most divisive aspect of the measures – arousing the anger of businesses and politicians – has been the decision to postpone the reopening of indoor eating and drinking and the mooting of a system for a vaccine pass for indoor services for those already vaccinated or who had been diagnosed with Covid in the previous nine months.

“The impact of this delay will be felt far and wide, affecting suppliers and retailers as well as hospitality businesses”

Commenting on the decision, Sharon Higgins, Ibec Director of Membership and Sectors, said: “The Experience Economy makes Ireland a great place to live, work and invest. It has borne the brunt the devastating economic impact of Covid and today’s decision adds further pressure to an already struggling sector ahead of peak holiday season in Ireland. While the health consequences are an important dimension, so too are the livelihoods of those driving Ireland’s experience economy.”

Higgins said the experience economy encompasses: hospitality, retail, travel, food, drink, tourism, entertainment, and technology and reaches deep into the supply chain, supporting business and employment in many of the hard to reach but critical elements of the economy and society.

“Many businesses are concerned about the feasibility of an indoor dining system that prioritises fully vaccinated persons. It is imperative that business plays a central role in its development.

“Businesses in the Experience Economy would welcome a decision from NPHET to publish the data that is underpinning their recommendation to postpone the reopening of Ireland’s Experience Economy. Such transparency would help dissipate some of the confusion that is rife amongst employers and employees as, internationally, countries have managed to keep their businesses in this sector open while at the same time managing the spread of the disease in communities.” Higgins said.

The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF), which represents hotel and guesthouse owners across the country, has expressed its disappointment that the reopening of indoor dining is being delayed. IHF President, Elaina Fitgerald Kane said the news was a crushing blow to businesses in the hospitality sector and the thousands of people who had been looking forward to returning to work next week.

“Public health remains the number one priority and we appreciate the challenges facing government as it seeks to reopen society and the economy safely. However, the past 15 months have been particularly difficult for the wider hospitality sector especially given the repeated and prolonged closures.

“These last-minute decisions are causing enormous challenges for businesses as well as being devastating to the morale of business owners and their teams. After weeks of planning and just as they thought they could start the long road to recovery, their plans have effectively been put on hold again.  The impact of this delay will be felt far and wide, affecting suppliers and retailers as well as hospitality businesses. Indeed, in some cases, whole communities rely on the tourism and hospitality industry. Urgent clarity is required on what reopening will look like so business owners can plan effectively and realistically.

Fitzgerald Kane stressed the importance of reopening non-essential international travel, saying it was critical to the recovery of the hospitality sector and the tourism industry in general. “The domestic market was very important last year and will be again this year. However, it does not replace international visitor numbers. As an island nation international tourism is critically important, accounting for over 70pc of tourism revenue pre-Covid.”

The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) also said the plan is unworkable and that it will only increase pressure on publicans and their staff.

Padraig Cribben, VFI Chief Executive, said: “The idea that only allowing the fully vaccinated into hospitality venues is highly problematic and probably unworkable for a number of reasons, not least how do publicans and their staff police such a policy? Government has consistently stated it would not introduce this type of measure so for it now to change course has left the pub trade reeling.”

Main image: Crowds outside bar for drinks and outdoor dining on Dame Street in a Sunday in June 2021 during warm weather. Photo via Claire Whitehead/Shutterstock

By John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 30 June 2021

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