Evolution or Extinction – what lies ahead for NI hospitality?

Evolution or Extinction – what lies ahead for NI hospitality?
Gavin Weir, the Principal in charge of Pubs & Hotels at Avison Young Belfast (formerly GVA NI) looks to what lies ahead for hospitality

“As publicans and hoteliers finally look to more positive times ahead, there is a danger of thinking that it will be plain sailing from here on but with social distancing requirements, travel restrictions, and the constant “variant” threat, the hospitality sector still has a long way to go to reach a full recovery and there is little doubt that some of the changes brought about by the pandemic will be here to stay.

“This has been (and will continue to be) the most challenging period of my professional career. I have worked through the tail end of The Troubles, The Global Financial Crisis and the roller coaster that was Brexit, but never before have I seen such a period of inactivity and uncertainty for the hospitality sector.

“The Furlough Scheme and the limited grant aid available has, until now, got most operators through but it is hugely important that banks and financial institutions do not turn their back on the industry in the next crucial phase, the recovery.

“With the rollout of the vaccine gathering momentum, not only in the UK but across the globe, attention is slowly turning to where the opportunities lie in this ‘New World’.  From a property advisor’s perspective, this is the most important part of our current role.

“We have in recent weeks started to see publicans and hoteliers looking to the future and start to enquire as to the availability of assets we were selling before the pandemic. This upturn in demand is an important first step and shows that operators are looking at what the opportunities will be in a post Covid world.

Gavin Weir, Principal, Avison Young Belfast, formerly GVA NI

“I sense much confidence around the performance of food led, out of town venues due to the obvious pent up demand from customers to dine out. The same is true of function/event driven hotels, who should see the benefit of displaced 2020 business when restrictions on numbers finally ease. Optimism exists too around local staycation venues, especially in the likes of Newcastle, Fermanagh and the North Coast, as the holiday at home trend seems set to continue in the short term.

“More uncertainty is evident however in the city centre where venues rely on more crowded bars and live music to make their business model work. There is also a big concern over the return of the corporate business traveller due to the growth in popularity of Zoom, Teams and the other video conference platforms that we all now grapple with on a daily basis.

‘Reasons for optimism’

“Do you really need to jump on a plane and stay overnight in Belfast for a meeting? This will impact City Centre hotels who will also be most reliant on the return of tourism to boost performance. Whilst there is an acceptance that this will return there is less confidence on the length of time it will take for Northern Ireland to attract the sort of visitor numbers seen in 2019.

“There will be opportunities and outlets will need to adapt but we have a good track record in that area in this part of the world so there are reasons for optimism. Prices and rents will likely re-calibrate but it is too early to say too what extent.  Early evidence indicates that the impact may be less than first anticipated.

“Our company rebranded this year, joining one of the world’s fastest growing real estate firms, Avison Young who have 5,000 professionals in 100 offices across the globe. We were excited by their global reach, challenger mentality and their desire to do things a bit differently. Be it a property consultancy or a neighbourhood pub, the old adage is the same…. Evolve or Be Extinct!”

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