Business news

NI hospitality industry bounced back quicker than other regions in the UK but recruitment remains one of its biggest challenges a new industry report to be unveiled at Hospitality Exchange shows

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Ulster University

10th Oct 2022

The report will be discussed at the annual industry event taking place on October 11 and 12 at the Crowne Plaza and will showcase the challenges and opportunities for those in the sector

As the countdown to Hospitality Exchange 2022 gets underway, the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) has revealed details of a new report that will be disclosed on Tuesday 11 October 2022 at the event.

The report, compiled by Gareth Hetherington, Director of the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre (UUEPC), also outlines the risks, constraints and challenges revealed in the NIHF-commissioned industry survey.

It paints a picture of how the last few years have raised challenges for the hospitality sector which would have been scarcely believed before the onset of the pandemic and shows how the sector was much more significantly impacted than other areas of the economy, contracting by approximately 40% in GVA terms in 2020 compared to an estimated 10% for the economy as a whole.

It will also show how Northern Ireland hospitality bosses retained staff better than their peers in other parts of the UK, with employment falling by 10% during the pandemic compared to 20% elsewhere.

But the report, which is supported by information from ASM and STR, details existing staffing challenges with chef and housekeeping areas of the sector worst impacted.

However, despite this major setback, the sector remains positive about its future prospects.

Gareth Hetherington, author of the report and Director of the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre (UUEPC), said:

“In general, the overall economy bounced back strongly from lockdown and this is supported by several economic indicators. This is most evident in the labour market where the number of payrolled employees now exceeds its pre-pandemic level, and Northern Ireland has experienced the fastest growth in employees since March 2020 (pre-COVID) across all 12 UK regions.

“Within the Hospitality sector, employers in Northern Ireland were more likely to retain staff than peers in other parts of the UK. Locally, employment fell by approximately 10% during the pandemic, which excludes people furloughed who would still have been considered employed, compared to approximately 20% in Scotland in Wales. As we moved into 2022, employment has returned to pre-pandemic levels in the sector.

“This data is broadly consistent with direct feedback from hoteliers who have indicated that their biggest challenge now is staff recruitment.  This was an issue across the board but specific shortages were noted in roles for chefs and housekeepers. To find out more, please join me at Hospitality Exchange on Tuesday 11th October.”

Discussing some of the key headlines Northern Ireland Hotels Federation CEO Janice Gault said: “Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic and what has been termed ‘The Great Resignation’ have taken their toll on the hotel labour market.

“There have been issues for many years and work to address image, recruitment and retention has started. A lack of skilled workers, a limited labour pool and prohibitive immigration policies add to the challenge but it is hoped that as 2022 comes to a close, the investment made in the sector will pay dividends.

“The industry is a resilient one and has become adept at coping with change. Hotels are resilient by their very nature and continue to show real commitment to the Northern Ireland economy.

Stephen Meldrum, Northern Ireland Hotels Federation President, added:“Hospitality Exchange 2022 returns to the Crowne Plaza Belfast on the 11th and 12th October 2022.  The line-up is one of our most impressive yet and we are delighted that guest chef, José Pizarro, will be in Belfast to share some trade secrets with aspiring chefs. The programme will focus on key industry issues, looking towards the future while focusing on food, people, performance and the economic importance of the sector.”

At this year’s Hospitality Exchange, the speaker line-up will also include Generational Theory expert, Dr Paul Redmond, who will discuss ‘the future of work – a rewarding career or a robotic role?’ Davina Saint will explore the benefits of a sustainable work-life balance. Meanwhile, Caroline Dunlea, CEO of Core Optimisation, will consider digital transformation, data utilisation and industry challenges and Mick Boyle, the Australian visionary behind Killeavy Castle Estate, will talk about restoration, sustainability and creating a legacy.

The ambitious Hospitality Exchange 2022 conferences also feature Sarah Duignan, Director of Client Relationships, STR; Tom Barrett, Director, Hotels & Leisure, Savills; Michael Williamson, Consultant, ASM Belfast; John McGrillen, Chief Executive Officer, Tourism NI and Niall Gibbons, Chief Executive, Tourism Ireland.

Whether you own, manage or work in a hotel, B&B, pub, restaurant, museum, airline or coffee shop, if you’re interested in developing and want to tap into innovation to drive business, then Hospitality Exchange is where you need to be.

For further information and to see the speaker line up in full, log on to