The government has advised that areas of the hospitality business will be among the last to re-open as lockdown restrictions are, in time, lifted.
It is understandable to see why places designed for public gatherings will be seen as high risk and therefore be discouraged from trading. However, the livelihoods of all those affected in a sector that employs some 3.3million people and contributes some £80b to the UK’s economy therefore remain at risk and uncertainty abounds.
Some businesses have adapted quickly, offering take away meals, providing services to the NHS and key workers and through enterprise and being fleet of foot have carved out a new direction.
Some hotels of course have remained open to cater to key workers and, in some cases, to provide accommodation for those leaving hospital and the homeless. Those businesses that have stepped up to the mark to help must be applauded and indeed have been recognised in the national news.
But what can operators do to plan for a return to some form of normality? The very core principles of their business are out of their hands? They do not know:
•When they will be able to trade;
•What period of notice they will have for re-opening;
•What hours of operation will be permitted;
•What requirements will be placed upon them regarding social distancing;
•Who will be responsible for policing any such restrictions;
•Whether they will have staff on their books in order to re-open;
•Whether they will have funds in the bank account to pay for stocks;
•Whether stocks can be delivered on time,
•What expectations there may be of customers for the service they can deliver.
Roger Bootle of Capital Economics is reported as stating a “V-shape” graph is predicted for recovery and the medium-term prospects for the hospitality industry are "extremely good". This opinion must be open to question given that the closedown was so sudden and the strategy to re-open seems to be a staggered re-opening at best. Foreign travel has a significant impact on many UK hospitality businesses and attitudes to / restrictions on travel will influence recovery.
Several major firms have shared their opinion that hotels in major UK cities could rebound to pre-lockdown levels by the end of 2021, assuming lockdown restrictions are lifted by the end of Q2 2020 but that the impact on the regions will be more protracted. This seems a safe bet with London seeing the quickest return to normality, subject to the influence of foreign travel.
UK leisure-based hotel operators may well see an uplift in business subject to seasonality with weekend demand peaking, though what will a peak look like?
F&B may well be popular as people get out and about and enjoy dining out again. However, will social distancing impact this; will F&B outlets have to limit scale as social distancing impacts back of house areas and therefore staffing levels? How will diners feel about sitting in a confined space with other people and will staff be required to wear PPE? Will service be a family style service to limit staff / customer interaction?
The huge concern must be that the longer businesses remain shut, the fewer will actually re-open. Also, there is a huge risk that should re-opening be too hasty, there may be localised or wider spread outbreaks of Coronavirus leading to further shutdowns.
So as operators, what can you plan for and what should be on your list? Here are some pertinent thoughts:
- Have you kept in touch with your suppliers?
- You will need to place orders and so will everyone else – there’s likely to be a backlog for some items so can long shelf life items be ordered now? What are your suppliers saying about future delivery schedules?
- Review your rooms forecast, based on potentially re-opening with less inventory, this is important so that cost can be re-aligned.
- Re-look at your market segmentation and focus, in the short-term, on the segments that are likely to bounce back first (domestic leisure and corporate).
- Tailor your hotel description, and room type descriptions to appeal to the domestic leisure market, and mirror across all OTAs.
- If you typically sell B&B rates, introduce a room only rate in the case that your restaurant cannot open in the early days.
- Review your breakfast operation, in line with social distancing measures.
- Review cancellation policies and adjust as necessary to give customers flexibility and peace of mind that they can cancel in the case of future lockdowns.
- Review and update all imagery, via your direct channel and all OTAs.
- Load any Summer promotions - value add will appeal to domestic leisure travellers, so offer value for money.
- Amend your room service menu to include low cost menu items, that are both quick and easy to make.
- Communicate with your customers and let them know your plans to re-open. Cleanliness and social distancing measures will be important to them, so share all of your efforts via email comms and also via your website.
-Will you open your event space and if so, how many people can you accommodate for meetings using social distancing spacings?
-Are you revisiting your revenue streams for the rest of the year? If so, it may be prudent to limit any wedding business to 50 people maximum.
There is a significant amount to consider in reopening and the above is not designed to be a fully comprehensive list – just a thought-provoking aide.
Condor Hotels are happy to discuss concerns if you have them and to offer some practical advice. Please do get in touch if you have any.