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Opinion: Our industry, now

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By Marisa Bidois

Reflecting on the recent closure of Homeland, a distinguished beacon of culinary excellence and education in New Zealand, it’s a poignant moment for our hospitality sector.

Whilst it might not have been rising operational costs or tighter customer budgets that led to it, it’s a clear signal of the rough patch our restaurants and bars are facing.

Our sector is sensitive to shifts in discretionary spending, grappling with a persistent skills shortage, and operates on notoriously narrow margins. Comprised predominantly of small, independently owned businesses, we are still navigating the long road to recovery from the pandemic’s profound impacts.

However, it’s important to recognise the sector’s remarkable resilience, capacity for innovation, and consistent growth over the years, despite such setbacks. Hospitality touches the hearts of our community deeply; the emotional impact of seeing a beloved café or restaurant close its doors cannot be understated.

These establishments are more than just places to eat; they are woven into the fabric of our daily lives, hosting countless memories and moments of connection. The loss of Homeland therefore resonates not just as a business closure but as a reminder of how integral these spaces are to our collective identity and well-being.

In response to these challenges, and especially following the devastating impact of Covid-19, the Restaurant Association of New Zealand has been proactive in charting a strategic roadmap aimed at rebuilding and rejuvenating Aotearoa’s hospitality landscape. This roadmap was designed not just as a reaction to the pandemic but as a forward-thinking blueprint to ensure the long-term prosperity and innovation within our industry.

Three years into the implementation of this plan, we’ve witnessed tangible progress and achievements that highlight our effectiveness in securing governmental recognition and support for the hospitality sector. A notable milestone in this journey has been the appointment of Matt Doocey as the hospitality minister, a role we advocated for vigorously to ensure our sector receives the focused attention and support it deserves from central government.

With the change of government, we are now responding to the Minister of Finance’s call for actionable strategies to drive industry growth, designed to address immediate challenges while laying a robust foundation for the sector’s future.

Our plan focuses on resolving long-standing industry issues, bridging skills and training gaps, simplifying business operations, and fostering stronger partnerships between the industry and government. Each of these steps is crucial for creating a more resilient, innovative, and vibrant hospitality industry.

Our initiatives are about making real, meaningful changes in the hospitality landscape.

For instance, Hospostart, developed alongside the Ministry of Social Development, is a lifeline for those out of work, equipping them with the skills and confidence needed to dive into hospitality roles — a sector known for its dynamic and fast-paced environment. The goal? To not just train, but to transform lives by opening doors to stable employment in an industry that’s at the heart of New Zealand’s culture.

HospoCred takes the concept of excellence and embeds it into the fabric of our industry. This unique accreditation scheme is a roadmap for businesses to continually elevate their service, ambience and operational standards setting new benchmarks in hospitality.

These initiatives, many of which are cost-neutral, highlight that substantial improvements are achievable through smarter regulation, better alignment of resources, and closer collaboration between industry and policymakers.

The closure of venues like Homeland is more than the loss of a culinary institution; it serves as a catalyst for our industry to confront the vulnerabilities exposed by such events and to work towards a more secure and dynamic future.

The heart and soul of our industry lie in our incredible resilience, creativity, and united strength. Together, we’re not just ready to tackle the tough times head-on; we’re also setting the stage for a future that’s brighter than ever for New Zealand’s hospitality scene. We’re about breaking new ground, sparking innovation, and creating a world class hospitality scene.

Imagine a future where our hospitality scene isn’t just a big player in the economy but also a shining star in New Zealand’s culture, making life richer for locals and visitors alike. It’s a future we can all get behind, but it’s going to take teamwork — businesses, workers, foodies, and the government, all rolling up their sleeves. Together, we continue to grow a sustainable, welcoming, and cutting-edge industry that everyone can be proud of.

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