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Hospitality Ulster Annual Awards

On 16/11/15 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

Hospitality Ulster held its annual awards in Belfast this week and I was not only a judge of two of the categories, but very grateful to be asked to attend too. I have long admired the work of Colin Neill and his team, and this year his very able chairman Mark Stewart has been replaced by the equally passionate Olga Walls who spoke about recognising every sector of the industry they now represent, from pubs to bars and from hotels to restaurants. In 2016, Northern Ireland will be celebrating a Year of Food and Drink, and Tourism Northern Ireland has produced a toolkit to help businesses make the most of it through identifying themselves with the campaign and using its logo in their communications. April is the month for brewing and distilling, so we can expect some new and innovative brews!

I was fortunate to sit next to Jonathan Bell MLA, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, whose responsibilities include tourism. It offered an opportunity to talk about the Northern Ireland licensing laws which are under review (to modernise), and the National Living Wage; how businesses can be helped to cope with it and the importance of our sector to tourism. Business Rates were very much part of that discussion, as was red tape. Since on my other side was Terrance Brannigan, the Chairman of Tourism NI, it was not difficult to make the point! Supporting growth is clearly a priority for the Minister and the health and wealth of the hospitality industry is clearly vital to the NI economy. We also of course talked about beer duty.

It is always good to see the excellence in the winners. The Urban Pub of the Year had a huge entry and Mary’s Bar, Magherafelt in Country Derry put in a great submission demonstrating the importance of training and excellent financial results too. In the City category, again demonstrating good training and good result, the Sunflower in Belfast was a deserving winner. I rated both very highly.

The whole event was held at La Mon Hotel and Country Club which provided great hospitality. Francis Brady, who I subsequently discovered co-owns the hotel, was honoured during the evening before he retires. He could not have made more feel more welcome – insisting on helping me with the luggage and later on arranging for me to have the right cash for my morning in Dublin the following morning. I will always have a very warm feeling about this hotel as a result, which is exactly as it should be of course, with excellence in hospitality.


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