Will 04 July be the hospitality sector's Independence Day?

Jamie Shail

Jamie Shail

Other 19th June 2020

Will 04 July be the hospitality sector's Independence Day?

By now you are probably aware of numerous hospitality businesses including hotels and restaurants, pubs and bars closing their doors for good up and down the country, Specialist Leisure Group’s 44 hotels trading as Bay Hotels, Coast & Country Hotels and Country Living Hotels including two I the Lakes The Windermere Hotel and the Derwentwater Hotel will not reopen. The Seafood Pub Company’s 10 venues across the north, including The Fenwick, at Claughton, near Lancaster and McDonald Hotels are currently consulting with their 2,299 staff across all of its 31 hotels about redundancies, with three hotels located in the Lakes. Big London names have closed too, including the likes of Le Caprice, The Ledbury, The Frog, Siren at The Goring and Texture, and national restaurant chains like Eat, Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito.

As an industry we are due to reopen on 04 July, but despite this we will only have in effect two months left of the season to trade before we see the winter downturn return. Just opening won’t be the solution, over 30% of people surveyed in recent weeks have said they aren’t comfortable having a break away this year, with a majority of these saying they won’t actually go away until next year. Only 10% have said they would look to have a break away in July and August.

When you add that to the four months, we have already missed, things really do not look good. Upwards of 90% of normal occupancy has been decimated with only around 10% confirmed across what are meant to be the industry’s peak summer months. Structured long-term assistance is essential for the hospitality sector to be able to survive. For many it will in effect mean that they have struggled through three winters in a row, with one of them in particular, the return from lockdown being harsher than any winter season experienced thus far.

There’s little or no point in opening the doors with 10% occupancy, and even if we did many of us without continued support will either be forced to shut our doors or at the very least be forced to make the difficult decision to make staff redundant. Understandably the mood amongst those in the industry is one of despondency, anger, and pure frustration, especially as many have dedicated their lives to building up their businesses and are now seeing those businesses simply collapse.

This is a question of special importance to areas like Cumbria with their largely rural communities. 65,000 people in Cumbria rely on tourism for their livelihood, as you might imagine there are limited alternative job opportunities and so much of the local infrastructure and secondary employment relies on a vibrant visitor economy.

In response to the crisis the government launched its ‘Road Map To Recovery’ on Monday 11 May, backed up by the Chancellor’s announcement on Tuesday 12 May extending furlough until October, with a number of limitations / conditions attached including contributions of 20% from employers.

Both for many were hugely welcome, especially as more than 2 million hospitality jobs are currently furloughed, and the supply chain is threatened with significant damage – all against the backdrop of an economy on its knees and recent frank admissions by the Chancellor that we are likely to enter a recession the likes of which has never been seen before.

As a society we are following the government’s ‘‘Road Map To Recovery’’, we are meeting our families in social distanced formats, schools are back with limited year groups, non-essential retail has reopened with social distancing restrictions and quarantine protocols for some forms of consumer goods, places of worship have also reopened for individual worship and football and racing have returned behind closed doors. But there’s one obvious omission: the hospitality sector, as yet there are no guidelines, currently we are attempting to second guess what we as a sector might be expected to do.

Most have followed UK Hospitality’s guidelines to develop their risk assessments and safe operating procedures and obviously, there are elements that can be taken from guidance issued to other sectors but there are some profoundly serious implications for us as an industry.

For example, if guests stay in a room, do we then have to quarantine that room after cleaning for a further 72 hours to mitigate the survivability of Covid-19 on surfaces? Are we allowed to reuse glass ware, cutlery, plates once washed or does that also have to be quarantined? We need guidance on PPE requirements for kitchen staff, restaurant staff, front of house staff and cleaning staff.

The government’s recovery plan acknowledges that life will be different, at least for the foreseeable future. It declares safety is paramount, that it will somehow juggle this whilst attempting to protect livelihoods and slowly return to some sort of normal.

The plan talks about optimising social distancing measures and doing as much as possible to suppress the epidemic spread, while minimising the economic and social effects. That will require a widespread system of testing, of tracing and monitoring and a significant re-designing of all workplaces and public spaces to make them "COVID-19 Secure" none more so than in the hospitality industry.

The government has announced that current social distancing measures and controls will remain in place, but will be gradually replaced by smarter controls, yet as a sector we have no indication what the social distancing requirements will be.

The sector is lobbying for a reduced social distancing measure of 1m, in use in many countries and within World Health Organisation guidelines. There is no doubt that due to the sheer diversity of the hospitality sector that there is no one-size-fits-all model for reopening. There are hugely varied business models across the many sub-sectors of the industry, which as a result means there are considerable practical challenges that need to be overcome.

Obviously if the lesser distance is accepted by the government as the new standard that means that restaurants, cafes, pubs can accept more customers, which for many will make the difference between survival and closure.

Basic health and safety protocols must be set in stone to ensure that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet, there can be no half measures in this, guidance must be clear, precise, and detailed and sub-sector specific.

It’s essential that reopening is done in the right way, at the right time and with the right protocols in place so that our industry can help play its part as we gradually begin to return to some form of normality in the coming months.

But regardless of that the Health Secretary announced on Tuesday (16 June) an extension to the lockdown review deadline set by government, with a new maximum review period of 28 rather than 21 days, which ultimately means the next review is now due to take place on 25 June, a month after the last review on 28 May.

The review that was originally due to occur today 18 June will now not occur until the 25 June, which in itself is disturbing given the fact that phase three of the ‘’road map to recovery’’, which includes the reopening of the hospitality sector is scheduled to commence on 04 July giving the sector less than nine days to put in place whatever measures and protocols may be required to safeguard our customers and staff in light of this…

The industry will only have in effect two months left of the season to trade before we see the winter downturn begin. Which is why as a result, the government must guarantee continued financial support for the sector to ensure it survives. We are a major part of the UK’s economy delivering 5% of our nation’s Gross Domestic Product, adding around £130 billion to the economic pot, employing 3.2 million people, and generating £39 billion in tax revenue for the UK government.

Without some real long term support, the hospitality industry is going to fare very badly, with many of its businesses suffering adversely, there are knock on impacts too in terms of the potential for significant job losses, a downturn in our economy and ultimately the decimation of many of our rural communities who rely on the sectors valuable income.

It is my view that without clear guidelines and firm commitments to support the sector into 2021 we can hardly herald the 04 July as our '‘Independence Day'’, which is no doubt what some quarters may well have had in mind when circling that particular date on the calendar…