North coast hospitality in UTV’s Up Close

From fears over the lives of staff and customers, to the devastating financial impact of lockdown, the next episode of UTV’s current affairs programme ‘Up Close’ looks at how Northern Ireland’s hospitality sector is navigating its way out of the pandemic, in an in-depth programme which airs this Friday (June 25) at 9pm.

Monday, 21st June 2021, 11:23 am

‘Summer Reservations’, presented by UTV’s Paul Reilly, hears from pub, restaurant and hotel owners who tell their very personal stories of sleepless nights, and the deep financial and human cost of trying to keep businesses afloat during the worst days of the pandemic.

Industry body representatives give the broader picture of what happened to hospitality and tourism once the pandemic hit. 

The programme also looks to the future, with real optimism among those interviewed that with foreign travel curtailed, and the promise of good weather, there could be a bumper summer ahead as ‘staycations’  become the norm.

UTV's Paul Reilly filming at Whiterocks Beach Portrush
UTV's Paul Reilly filming at Whiterocks Beach Portrush

Paul speaks to business owners and industry representatives, including Hospitality Ulster’s Colin Neill who says the past year has been horrific for the sector.

“It’s fair to say as an industry we’ve been to hell and back. It has been the biggest challenge ever faced by the hospitality industry, by the individual business, the business owners and the staff and it’s not over yet, but we’re going in the right direction.”

The devastating financial impact of lockdown has been felt right across the sector, with many spending thousands of pounds just to stand still, like Trevor Kane from the Bayview Hotel in Portballintrae.

He said: “For our business here around £15,000 a month to mothball. Over a 10 month period, it’s £150,000 just fluttered away, gone, but you know, it has to be done and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Paul Reilly interviewing Donal Doherty at Harry's Shack, Portstewart Strand.

“So any grant that we’ve got, which we’re very, very thankful for, has been eaten up. And obviously with the other costs such as general maintenance, because you can’t let a building like this go downhill. You have to keep on top of it.”

Many restaurants have had to rethink their offering, developing cook at home meals, and creating outdoor spaces which previously didn’t exist.

They have been pivoting their business in a way which was unimaginable little over a year ago.

But despite the absence of foreign visitors this year, there’s optimism that this could be a bumper summer.

UTV Camera man John Vennard shooting in Portrush for the Up Close programme

Donal Doherty from Harry’s Shack in Portstewart says the demand he is seeing indicates a busy few months ahead.

He commented:“The home staycation market is going to boom this year. There’s an opportunity there to say not only are we going to have a really busy summer, but let’s give them an experience which says the following year, actually, we’re not going to go to Portugal or Spain.”

Tourism NI’s Chief Executive John McGrillen is confident that the sector will recover, pointing out: “All of the research that’s being done internationally would suggest that tourism is going to come back with a bang. It’s going to come back quickly. There’s huge demand out there, right across the globe, to travel. So I don’t see any reason why we should feel pessimistic.”

UTV’s Alison Fleming, who produced the programme said: “It’s been a tough 15 months for everyone, but the experience of those in the hospitality and tourism sectors was a story that needed to be told. 

“Many of the people we spoke to had real fears, not just for their business, but for their staff and customers too. This programme looks at the challenges they have faced and overcome, and the fears and hopes they have for the future.”

Tony Curry, Programmes Editor at UTV said: “Up Close allows us to go in-depth on some of Northern Ireland’s biggest stories – stories that need further analysis, investigation and explanation. UTV News has reported extensively on how the hospitality industry has suffered right throughout the pandemic, and we hope that this programme highlights the resilience and ingenuity of this particular sector.”