Why visors, face coverings and gloves will become an integral part of life in Britain's hotels - Wayne Topley

Face masks are set to become part of everyday life in Britain for some time.Face masks are set to become part of everyday life in Britain for some time.
Face masks are set to become part of everyday life in Britain for some time.
The economic impact of having 90 per cent of hotels closed losing 100 per cent of revenue for the last 12 weeks is beyond any normal comprehension.

However, what we have truly lost has yet to be fully understood and valued, and there’s a huge number of hospitality leaders who fear the future impact of the Covid virus.

We don’t have to look far to see the threat of recession, our industry will feel that first, opening a hotel is simple, ensuring viability is the real skill and challenge.

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The industry is based on a 30-40 per cent labour percentage of our income. That resource is not a commodity, it requires planning, nurturing, training, development, support and encouragement and it is not a day-one position that we have ever found ourselves in before.

We are putting a huge leap of faith that, in our experience, we will be able to manage the necessary cost base to keep our businesses viable at the same time as being a responsible employer for our team and responsible hoteliers for our guests.

In the short term, Government support has given us what we needed. The extension of furlough until October has been great together with short-term loans and suspension of business rates.

But it won’t be enough for our long-term survival. We definitely need a change on VAT, and we need an extension on some of the key support packages as well for our industry as a special case.

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We also need to think in terms of employment, we have people who have invested vast amounts for the success of their businesses sacrificing a lot of time and effort and to lose some of these businesses would stunt the growth of our economy short and long-term, not only of our local economy but the country’s economy too.

What does that do to the make-up of society and culture that we had? Imagine the day after lockdown and you go to your favourite bar, restaurant or pub only to find that it didn’t make it.

Our biggest change will be around a new way of being hospitable whilst at the same time being safe.

Cleanliness and hygiene have risen to a totally new level of business-critical importance and will be hugely visible.

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We will have different ways of meeting and greeting people. Visors, face coverings and gloves will be an integral part of our business. Communication will become more guided which is difficult and uncomfortable for the hospitality industry.

I do envisage more interaction and services through our smartphones. There will be far more visible cleaning. It used to be part of the greater mysteries of how a hotel is cleaned when housekeeping was hidden.

The greater impact will be felt in big events like weddings, conferences and events. If we follow the logic, we can expect to see more outdoor events.

With social distancing and calculating available space, if you allow two square metres for every customer, that means where you previously could have six people, you can now only fit one. That means a 600-capacity venue is reduced to 100 people, that is a very different realisation of what weddings, functions and conferences are going to look like.

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The emotional part of you tells you that previous successful events based on maximum capacity that brought together large numbers of people won’t be supported or legally allowed. We need to know and understand what the safe and optimum number of people we can bring into our hotels.

In very simple terms we sell two things, sleep and space. Sleep we can manage, selling space will be much harder and there are an awful lot of businesses that sell space that need clarification and soon.

Right now, hospitality isn’t a viable industry, but I do believe in a very short space of time (weeks) we will get back to being the engaged, fun, fast-paced society we always have been.

The big question will be how many businesses will still be there and what does viability look like for those businesses in the future?

Wayne Topley is Chair of Leeds Hotels & Venues Association

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