OVER recent years, the outlook for the leisure industry has been bleak. Pubs, bars and restaurants have closed at a rate of knots, long-established operators have gone into administration and with economists promising a "double dip" in the recession during 2012, things don't look set to improve in the immediate future.
However, the economic recession is not solely to blame for the pressures that licensees now find themselves under.
In the last 10 years the industry has had to deal with a complete overhaul in the licensing laws.
Whilst the 24-hour drinking culture promised much, the reality is not so rosy.
Customers have limited funds to spend but the overheads of keeping pubs open longer is crippling; arguably the “light touch” of the new Act has led to saturation of the market; and the restriction of the smoking ban have all added to the woes of the trade during the Noughties.
During these challenging times it takes a strong operator to survive but the North East has more than its fair share of strong players.
The key to survival continues to be creativity, innovation and quality.
Operators need to constantly review their customer market and adapt their offering to attract it.
The Sandman Hotel, which opened on Barrack Road in 2011, nicely epitomises these essential survival ingredients.
Their bedrooms and suites (with kitchenettes in many) cater for both corporate and family customers and their Shark Bar restaurant clearly attracts sports fans (with its multitude of large screens) but also makes sure its menu is attractive to all.
It is also a very positive sign that the Canadian hotel group decided on Newcastle as the location for its first European site; a sign that the North East is worth investing in.
Fluid Group continued to meet market demands in 2011 with further expansions to their coffee house empire; and the addition of their new gastro bar, Bar Luga Deli, which is bursting at the seams with customers in Morpeth’s new Sanderson Arcade.
Good quality refurbishments are also noted at New Northumbria Hotel and Lady Grey.
Dav Developments completed the first two stages of their multi-million pound refurbishment at New Northumbria in Jesmond.
Shying away from the “cheap and cheerful” student offerings that the majority of their competitors provide on Osborne Road, the quality of their refurbishment stands out and as a result attracts an upmarket clientele with more money in their pocket to spend.
The Ladhar Group meanwhile transformed the old Adelphi on Shakespeare Street into the beautifully ornate gastro pub, Lady Grey.
A pub that was a haunt of football fans now attracts theatre- goers, shoppers and professionals!
And innovation was not in short supply during 2011, with veteran licensee Bob Senior of Utopian Leisure keeping everyone on their toes by opening the region’s first “bring your own” nightclub at Durham’s Live Lounge.
Looking forward to 2012 the industry had a good start to the year.
No snow means more customers and as a result the trade had a buoyant Christmas.
Even the economists have confirmed that the festive period saw a surprise growth of activity in the economy which was led by hotels, restaurants and catering firms!
The 2012 Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee will also give the trade a boost this year, but to get the most out of these events operators need to plan ahead and adapt their offerings to maximise return during these lucrative times.
2012 is set to be a party year for the region and with forward planning and constant review of the market the industry should be able to weather the storm of the recession once more.
Finally, there are steps afoot to change the licensing laws.
Under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 what would appear to be minor changes to the Licensing Act 2003 (to include licensing authorities as responsible bodies and the reduction of the evidential burden by requiring that licensing authorities make decisions that are “appropriate” to promote the licensing objectives rather than “necessary”), are likely to have wide implications for the industry as the licensing authorities reclaim control by way of increased discretionary power.
It is anticipated these reforms will come into force by the autumn of 2012.
Rather paradoxically, at the same time the Government has recently conducted consultation on a proposal to deregulate most of the currently regulated entertainments under the Act.
This would allow many premises to offer both recorded and live music and dancing without the numerous restrictions currently imposed on them.
Whilst this will undoubtedly be of benefit to schools and similar venues, it could have a huge impact on noise issues.
The Government is also currently in consultation on early morning restriction orders (EMRO) and a late night levy.
If introduced into law, the EMROs would allow licensing authorities to restrict the sale of alcohol in the whole or part of their areas between 3am and 6am, and the late night levy would allow licensing authorities to raise a contribution from late opening alcohol retailers towards policing the late night economy.
The licensing authority can choose to adopt this power in their area and can then choose the period during which the levy applies between midnight and 6am.
This will undoubtedly be a hot topic for debate in the coming weeks.
1. Find out what is going on in your area and when (ie Olympic Torch Ceremony, Olympic events, Lighting of Jubilee Beacons, The Big Lunch),
2. Consider what profile of customer you seek to attract,
3. Consider what you want to offer – televising of events, food, entertainment etc,
4. Provide themed offerings during the months/weekend of events,
5. Raise money for charity,
6. Ensure you have the correct licences/permissions in place to provide these.