A new hospitality forum to help the sector recover post-Covid and inspire more people to choose it as a career in Newry, Mourne and Down is to be established by the council.
The decision to set up the forum comes after a motion was heard at a recent Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Committee.
SDLP councillor Laura Devlin brought forward the motion, which was seconded by party colleague Cllr Michael Savage.
The elected representative for the Mournes told members that hospitality businesses across the district were struggling to employ staff, causing “huge problems and concern” for the local economy.
“Our hospitality sector is in crisis,” added Cllr Devlin. “There’s a concerning shortage in the number of chefs, which is having a detrimental impact on the industry’s ability to keep their doors open.
“Without chefs we essentially have no food or drink industry, no chef means a closed kitchen, a restaurant unable to open its doors and no money to pay employees.
“In Newry, Mourne and Down we pride ourselves in exceptional culinary variety that exists and we all believe this to be key to our Covid recovery.
“Our coastal towns have been booming [over the summer], but without chefs tourists are not getting the full Newry, Mourne and Down culinary offering.
“Many establishments here have already reduced their opening hours and some have even had to close their doors in the interim.
“The staycation market has been our opportunity to showcase all that we have to offer and with dining we’ve always punched above our weight but now this huge gap for catering staff means that people are missing out on so much.
“I do appreciate that this is a problem much bigger than Newry, Mourne and Down but given the emphasis that we put into tourism then I believe the current situation is beyond worrying.”
In response, the council provided a report to members, blaming the shortages on Covid-19, Brexit and high staycation demand.
In the report, council officers also outlined how new funding opportunities now existed to fund initiatives that could potential help to address problems and market the opportunities within the sector.
It’s understood that representatives from the South Eastern and Southern Colleges, Department for the Economy and other key stakeholders have been contacted and will take part in the forum.
It’s hoped the forum will help address the shortage within the hospitality sector with the aim of providing short, medium and long term solutions to tackle this crisis