The conference, hosted by Ivan Yates and organised by the Licensed Vintners Association, the Vintners Federation of Ireland and Hospitality Ulster, was supported by Diageo’s Raising the Bar programme, a €14 million fund, to help support trade across the Island of Ireland to re-open their doors and recover following the Covid-19 pandemic which has now seen some pubs closed for 421 days.
The virtual attendees were joined by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, one of two keynote speakers, who stated that he’s working with Minister Catherine Martin on grants for ‘wet’ pubs.
“I want to say to publicans, that I can only imagine how tough the last year has been,” he told the conference, “Nobody thought you’d be closed for so long. This is the big reopening and we want to make sure you never have to close again.”
The Tánaiste also spoke of how he envisaged outdoor reopening on the 7th of June and shared his hopes for the resumption of indoor hospitality in July which “is all going according to plan”.
The revised government plan ends the distinction between wet pubs and gastropubs and removes the 15-person limit on outdoor service.
He imagined that table service would involve only the lead person in the party giving details for Contact Tracing while Social Distancing would remain at a metre or a metre-and-a-half.
Wage subsidy supports and the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme would not go “over a cliff-edge” on the 30th of June but would remain in place, he said, adding that the government intended to keep CRSS payments in place “for businesses that are closed or operating under very severe restrictions”.
The 9% VAT rate would stay in place until the end of the year.
However he was less sanguine about the possibility of foreign tourism this Summer, suggesting that the sector was realistically looking at 2022 for any resumption of this.
“For the foreseeable future it’s going to be local and domestic rather than international tourism,” he stated, “But I’d like to see the return of a common travel area between Britain and Ireland as Britain is ahead of us, being very successful with the vaccine.”
As hospitality reopening becomes a realistic prospect, the conference focussed on looking at how the industry can emerge stronger than ever post Lockdown.
Other speakers at the conference included Professor Luke O’Neill, Chair of Biochemistry in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College Dublin and Economist David McWilliams as well as Diageo Ireland’s new Managing Director Barry O’Sullivan and its Marketing Director Hilary Quinn, Head of Categories & Insights at Diageo Ireland Alex Hughes and a panel of industry experts to look ahead to the coming weeks as the sector slowly begins to reopen across the Island of Ireland.
Providing inspiration and practical ideas, the agenda also included sessions on the use of digital marketing from Tiernan O Moroin, Head of Culture, Entertainment & Digital Media at Diageo Ireland.
Other topics included the role of outdoor spaces, emerging and future consumer trends and learnings from abroad (featuring the Dead Rabbit’s Jack McGarry).
The increasingly critical issues of staff recruitment and retention were also reviewed.
Professor Luke O’Neill spoke of his desire to get back to past times that have been curtailed during the pandemic, telling publicans, “Friends overseas can’t believe that not a single pub has been open in Dublin for over a year. This can be done safely if we get full vaccination and follow the guidelines so here’s to the return of pub life – outdoors first and then hopefully indoors again.”