Hospitality in the Post Covid Era: Driving a sustainable recovery

Continued support and attracting staff in the wake of Covid-19 are major concerns for hospitality sector in Northern Ireland

On the left, BDO NI Managing Partner and Head of the Industry Response Group, Brian Murphy and on the right, Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster. 


Main Headlines:

BDO NI & Hospitality Ulster Sentiment Survey shows how ongoing Covid-19 uncertainty continues to hamper the industry with investment plans in the balance;

  • 71% plan to recruit over the next six months but significant issues with attracting and retaining staff remain (74%)
  • 80% of businesses across the industry see rising business costs as a significant risk
  • 42% of hospitality businesses confident about their future prospects
  • 45% plan to invest in their business over the next six months
  • 77% feel the uncertainty around Covid-19 and possible future restrictions is a serious risk


The Detail:

Recruitment / Investment

74% of Northern Ireland’s hospitality sector continue to struggle with staffing issues, as the impact of Covid-19 has further intensified recruitment concerns across the industry. Even prior to the pandemic, hospitality in Northern Ireland faced significant labour challenges. The impact of Covid-19 has now led to an increased skills shortage, which has seen many move away from the industry permanently, leaving a shortfall that businesses are unable to deal with.

If the industry is to proceed with it’s intended investment plans (71% of those surveyed indicated plans to invest in the next six months) there needs to be a concerted effort to address this recruitment shortfall.


Of those surveyed in the BDO NI & Hospitality Ulster Sentiment Survey, only 42% indicated they were confident about their future – whilst this is higher than previous, the caution lies with the uncertainty of what is to come and what support businesses can avail of to make their post pandemic operations workable. The hospitality industry in June saw a jump in growth following the opening of pubs, restaurants, and hotels and whilst this was welcome, the challenge will be to make these businesses sustainable in the face of growing demand and persisting challenges.

There is no doubt that the uncertainty around future restrictions or lockdowns has prevented many businesses from investing in their offering and this continues to be a substantial issue with 77% stating that this uncertainty is a serious risk to their future.

Brian Murphy, Managing Partner, BDO NI and Chair of the Hospitality Industry Group said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on us all, both socially and economically. It is only through great sacrifices that we have been able to progress to the point now where there is the potential of getting back to a new normal.  

Faced with the challenges of the last 16 months, it is heartening to see that businesses, employees, suppliers, banks and Government have all come together to work in partnership to plot a course through the pandemic. With so much investment of time, money and effort to get to this point, it would be a further tragedy if we were to allow businesses to fall at this final hurdle.

The hospitality industry in particular has such an important role to play in both the economic recovery and also for us all to find our way back to a new way of living and working. However, thousands of jobs remain at risk within hospitality and despite all of the hard work and investment to date, it could all be lost if Government and stakeholders don't continue to work alongside and support the industry.

The hospitality industry in Northern Ireland is a strong and resilient one and with continued support from stakeholders over the coming months, I have every confidence that it will bounce back even stronger and better than before.”

Challenges going forward

Several other significant challenges over the next six months will dictate if this confidence level increases or decreases within the industry.

One of the biggest risks for businesses in hospitality over the next six months is rising business costs, with 80% of those surveyed saying this is a significant concern. Whilst furlough and associated government grants supported the industry during the various lockdowns, it fell short of the financial burden that many in the industry felt and continue to feel. The anticipated rise in costs for businesses, including wages (56% quoted this as a concern), rent and other utilities such as gas and electricity will put further pressure on what is an already tight profit margin within the industry.

How other sectors recover from the pandemic will also have a knock-on effect for hospitality, 27% said that low levels of international visitors is a significant risk to their business over the next six months. Whilst the safety and wellbeing of all those travelling to Northern Ireland must be the priority, the continual changes to travel rules is having a detrimental impact on tourism and those who rely on it to survive.

Commenting on the survey findings, Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster added:

“It is clear to see that the hospitality sector is faced with some major challenges. The pandemic and the subsequent impact on the sector has been devastating. The long shut down and the lack of progress in lifting the remaining restrictions has damaged confidence and livelihoods and seen some business owners take difficult business decisions.”

“The future sustainability of the entire industry is at risk. Many have burnt through cash reserves and any government support they could get. The sector is still being denied the ability to be fully open, unhindered, and trading at a viable level. This coupled with rules around staff isolation policy is also creating a significant burden on being able to open at a time when we should be building back and placing emphasis on the recovery and revitalisation.”

“The analysis of the survey information by Brian Murphy and his team at BDO clearly shows that an accelerated pathway out of the pandemic is now imperative, as the hospitality sector is far too important to our local economy to not be given the attention it requires by the NI Executive. These results speak for themselves, and we now urgently need a dedicated hospitality recovery strategy, developed and delivered in a partnership of the industry and the NI Executive.”


Managing debt and other funding issues was a risk identified by 31% of those surveyed, while 20% indicated that meeting current and future creditor commitments was a key risk for their immediate future. The level of financial assistance over the last year has been unprecedented but with Covid-19 loans coming to an end, many within the industry are concerned about how these obligations can be repaid on top of any other creditor commitments that they have.

To facilitate a successful and long-term return to trading within the industry, all funding options need to be considered by businesses, whether this is via Government or the banks / lenders. Confidence in these options to date has been viewed as being either good or fair by 75% of the respondents in relation to the support they received from their bank / lender during the pandemic and 84% rated the Government’s response as either good or fair. This shows how effective the assistance provided by the banks and Government has been, the funding lifelines extended by them have preserved tens of thousands of jobs in the hospitality sector and it is now critical that this support continues to help the industry overcome the remaining challenges.

Other interventions identified in the survey included the continued reduction of VAT for hospitality and the call for further support from local councils across Northern Ireland.

The survey, which was conducted between 29 June and 22 July 2021, interviewed a range of hospitality businesses in Northern Ireland, including bars, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, and other establishments and measured their confidence levels and concerns for their own business and the industry. 

How BDO NI can help you:

Read our Hospitality in the Post Covid Era: Driving a Sustainable Recovery below to find out how BDO NI's expert team can help you and your business going forward.

Hospitality in the Post Covid Era: Driving a Sustainable Recovery

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