Sunday 18 August 2019

County Wexford pub trade rising to the challenge

PULLING POWER: pubs are meeting the challenge of changing times.
PULLING POWER: pubs are meeting the challenge of changing times.
Michael Wallace.

By David Tucker

There is a renewed sense of optimism within the pub trade, Michael Wallace, chairman of the Wexford branch of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland.

'Not too long ago storm clouds were gathering around the pub trade and we found ourselves running for shelter. Thankfully, the storm is passing, blue skies are visible again and as we head into a hopefully warm summer, my faith in the future of our trade is greater than ever,' said Mr Wallace in an op-ed written against the background of the vintners annual meeting in Athlone last week.

Mr Wallace, who runs the Tir na Nog in Wellingtonbridge, said recent research conducted by the VFI amongst almost 1,600 Irish people and tourists re-affirms this faith.

The research outlines that 88 per cent of people want to see Irish pub culture and heritage preserved while 62 per cent of people believe the role the pub plays in the local community is extremely important.

'I have always known and believed this myself but to have the backing of the Irish public and see evidence of their love for the pub is very uplifting.

'It's fair to say not everyone has sight of this same blue sky I refer to earlier. The level of positivity has not reached all areas yet and pubs in city centres, large towns and tourist areas will usually recover first.

'We are however continuing to move in the right direction.'

mr Wallace said there are a number of contributory factors that have brought about this improvement in our trade.

'Firstly, publicans have embraced changing consumer demands meaning the pub offering is fundamentally different to what it was. High quality food is now more pivotal than ever with research showing that 40 per cent of people rank the availability food as an important factor when they visit the pub.

'In this respect, it's re-assuring to know that Irish pubs offer some of the best value and more importantly highest quality food in the country.

'Couple this with a greater diversity of drink offerings reflecting the growing interest in craft beers, specialist whiskeys and gins, and cocktails. Of course, this isn't forgetting the wide variety of entertainment on offer in pubs, with all of this topped off by our world renowned hospitality and the warmth of the Irish Pub welcome.

Mr Wallace said it was fair to say that external economic factors are also helping.

Tourism numbers were generally on the rise in the past year and the pub certainly felt the benefit of this.

'This merely highlighted what we already knew, that the pub is the number one tourist attraction and this was further cemented in the last year. Our research supports this reality with 88 per cent of people stating they visited a pub while in Ireland.

'The fact that unemployment has fallen and there is more spend available has also helped. Consumer confidence continues to rise and we are seeing the benefit.

We are only seeing the benefit because we have worked hard to capitalise on it. Publicans are moving with the times. We realise the world is going in a different direction and we're on board for the journey.

Despite my overall air of optimism, publicans still face many challenges.

Mr Wallace said Brexit is already having an effect as the numbers visiting Ireland from the UK have fallen this year. 'The value of Sterling is a key issue for us as a tourist destination and with the negotiations around the UK's departure from the EU only starting we can be sure of more uncertainty in the coming years.

'Meanwhile, excise duty on wine, beer, spirits and cider continues to undermine any recovery in the sector while the cost of public liability insurance is causing havoc for publicans across the country. Add to this commercial and water rates, as well as other regulatory impositions. 'What's unfortunate here is that these costs are hampering the progress of small business owners and publicans across Ireland. Our level of hard work, energy, commitment and innovation needs to be recognised and supported. 'We are the heart and soul of local communities. In many instances, we are the 'last man standing' in villages and towns stripped of post offices, bank branches and Garda stations. 'This is a responsibility we don't take lightly. People depend on us and it is our duty to be there for them.

'Our industry has met that challenge and then some.'

Wexford People

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