Saturday, December 9, 2023

Press Up redundancies a harsh reality check for sector

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Just weeks before Christmas, 32 staff at the Press Up Hospitality Group have been told they are being made redundant.

The sale of the group’s portfolio of hotels was cited as one reason for the decision. This will come as cold comfort to the staff given that the recent agreement with British property group Lifestyle Hospitality Capital and Elliott Investment Management, a New York alternative investment giant founded by billionaire activist investor Paul Singer, reportedly placed a value of €350 million on the hotel business.

We can only hope that the staff being laid off are getting generous redundancy terms to help cushion the blow of losing their jobs.

Press Up was one of the stars of the post-bailout era here, building up a portfolio of more than 50 hotels, restaurants, bars and cinemas across the country, under an assortment of brands, and setting its sights on expansion in the North and Britain.

But the past few years have been a tougher slog with Covid 19-lockdown restrictions denying it millions of euro in income, while soaring inflation and rising interest rates have made it more challenging to attract customers and to service its borrowings.

In recent times, there have been signs of the business model fraying around the edges, with the closure of some venues and a certain amount of chopping and changing with the group’s concepts.

When explaining the reasons for the redundancies, Press Up said it included the recent sale of the hotel portfolio, the “current tough trading conditions and costs of doing business in Ireland which includes large cost of goods inflation, energy cost increases and the recent VAT increase [from 9 to 13.5 per cent] and wage increases”.

It might also be a reaction to its debt leveraging, although it is hard to get a clear picture of this given the structure of the group, and its relationship with the Oakmount property vehicle, which has developed and owns many of the Press Up venues and is also operated by Press Up founders Paddy McKillen jnr and Matt Ryan.

Energy prices have moderated and inflation is coming down but so too have exports and corporation tax receipts, which could be worrying signals of tougher times ahead for the Irish economy and, by extension, hospitality groups such as Press Up.

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