THE new leading advocate for pubs in Victoria says hospitality venues need to move with the times or face an uncertain future in an increasingly congested industry.
While establishments including Munster Arms Hotel have re-opened and plans are in place for the redevelopment of Seymour’s in Soldiers Hill, other loved hotels and bars including the 150-year-old Royal Mail in Sebastopol, Mojo’s in Armstrong Street and Athletic Club Brewery in Mair Street have recently shut.
Once the home of over 500 pubs, the changing face of the industry is exemplified by the fact that only one single pub remains along Albert Street in Sebastopol after three historical pubs closed in the last five years.
A number of the recent closures have left up to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debts including unpaid staff wages and money owed to suppliers.
This week, Golden Point publican David Canny was elected unopposed to the presidency of the Australian Hotels Association, Victorian Branch, replacing Peter Burnett AM who has stepped aside after 21 years.
Mr Canny, who runs the Red Lion, said he was keen to investigate what has caused the recent closures of some of Ballarat’s iconic venues.
“We’ve got to really delve into why that happens,” he said.
“Pubs play such an integral role in the community, yes, there’s been a lot of rumour and innuendo (about why they closed), but I’m not privy to that.”
He vowed to assist hotels in any way to make sure they remained viable.
“The Ballarat pub scene really is different from the rest of the state,” he said.
“It has always been a strong scene and in some ways the envy of other regions.
“At the end of the day, it’s the market that will determine the requirements (of how many pubs we have).
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He said there were numerous examples of pubs succeeding against seemingly impossible odds.
“You just have to look at a pub like the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, it keeps on going from strength to strength.”
Mr Canny’s comments are in line with a recent interview with new leaseholder of the Provincial Hotel Simon Coghlan.
“Looking at the broader picture, there’s a constant need to be addressing changes in society’s views and expectations around liquor laws, combined with the ever-changing views of the public,” Mr Coghlan said.
“Change, I think, is accelerating at the moment, and we need to be able to respond quickly to that.
“In the age of social media, it’s about the ability to connect with the customer and provide new experiences, because that’s what they want.”
The Australian Hotels Association represents 5000 businesses across Australia, from country pubs to five-star resorts. It’s mission is to ensure a national legislative, social, economic and commercial environment that secures the viability of Australian hotels.
In May last year, Some of Ballarat's most prestigious hotels were named at a Senate inquiry into worker exploitation. Issues raised included underpayment of employees, illegal cash-in-hand payments, bullying and harassment.
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Mr Canny said the issues that were most important for him to tackle were compliance and training and regulation.
“I believe that most are doing the right thing,” he said. “But it is important for the future of the industry that when people come into it, they see it as a career and not a stop gap.
“We also need to continue to make sure regulation does not have an adverse affect on the future of the industry.
“I believe we have a pretty good relationship now with all sides of government which we expect to continue going forward.
“We need to work with them and make sure that regulators are willing to consult with trusted leadership.”
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Mr Canny paid tribute to the man he called his mentor, Ballarat publican Ian Larkin, who died earlier this year.
“It was 22 years ago that Ian Larkin first invited me to be a part of the AHA,” he said.
“I have learned so much from him. He has played an enormous part in my career. I’ll always be indebted to him. I’m sure he’ll be pretty happy looking down.”
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