Few would argue that the hospitality and tourism sector was among those most significantly
affected by the pandemic, and there’s no doubt that the immeasurable impact of the past year has
forced a complete transformation of the way the sector operates, both now and in the future.
This unprecedented challenge has drawn new attention to the industry, bringing into public
awareness the sheer scale and impact of the sector on our economy. Not only in the number of
people it employs, and the revenue it generates, but aside from that, to how central hospitality and
tourism is for our own sense of ‘normal’.
During the countless conversations over the past year about what we’re most looking forward to
‘when this is all over’, answers have often revolved around our much-loved hospitality sector, not
only for the venues themselves, but for the opportunities they provide to reconnect with family and
friends, or even strangers.
While it’s undoubtedly been a struggle, hospitality businesses have firmly demonstrated their
determination to survive, often turning business models on their heads to serve customers and
communities in new and innovative ways and also playing an important role in community resilience
and response to the pandemic.
So, as the industry reopens, are there opportunities to build on the successes, innovations, and
resilience of the past year and redefine the role of the sector post-pandemic?
As such a varied sector, comprising large global corporations, UK-wide companies, small and hyper-
local businesses and venues, it faced a substantial challenge in getting its voice heard throughout the
pandemic. But as employers of more than 3 million people across the UK, generating £130bn in
economic activity, representation was crucial.
Existing bodies like UK Hospitality have been instrumental, advocating on behalf of the sector –
particularly with regard to financial support, such as recent calls for action on rent debt – and for
highlighting the importance of the sector to economic recovery.
But on a more local scale, we’ve seen independent businesses, restaurants, hotels and cafes group
together to create a shared voice to advocate for themselves.
The Wales Independent Restaurant Collective (WIRC) was set up at the beginning of the pandemic,
now representing 400 independent restaurants, cafes, pubs and street food outlets, who combined,
employ a significant proportion of the Welsh population.
They were determined to have their say on the Welsh Government’s handling of the pandemic and
lockdown regulations, highlighting their crucial contribution to Wales’ economy; as employers, and
in supporting a network of food producers and suppliers across Wales.
Restaurant and pub owner, and WIRC member Cerys Furlong said: “We wanted to make sure our
voice was heard within Government, the press and public, and we think the action we took last year
contributed to a change in approach from Welsh Government, which is now actively engaging with
us as independent businesses in a way they haven’t before.”
“We want to go further, and we think there is a long-term future for WIRC, enabling us to grow a
more vibrant, independent food and drink industry in Wales.”
Careers within tourism and hospitality
As one of the UK’s biggest employers pre-pandemic, the largest number of job losses throughout has
come from the sector, with many staff remaining on furlough until hospitality is fully re-opened.
A substantial proportion of hospitality employees are young people, with 28% of the workforce in
2019 estimated to be aged between 25-34, and 16% aged 16-24.
This group have been adversely affected by the pandemic – according to the ONS, more than half of job losses since March 2020 were lost by those under 25 – and they will be urgently seeking job and training opportunities.
With the right support, the sector will be instrumental in providing the jobs needed, with many
employers already preparing to welcome back staff as soon as possible; this is an important
opportunity for businesses to attract and retain the right talent to support future innovation.
However, employees will equally play a crucial role in the sector’s recovery – according to an
Economic Insights report, 45% of the hospitality and tourism workforce is employed in roles where
staff behaviours make a significant difference to a great customer experience – which highlights the
importance of investing in developing staff at all levels as we recover.
Industry leading qualifications like the EMBA in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Learna,
support hospitality professionals with strategic planning and contemporary hospitality management,
enabling them to step up and be confident in adapting to the evolving industry and equipping them
to respond as we establish what the new normal will look like.
Employees will be the future of the industry, therefore investment in people will play an important
role in growth and success.
Supporting Community Resilience
With empty buildings and furloughed staff, many hospitality businesses turned their resources and
expertise to supporting communities throughout the pandemic in an extraordinary effort that
included collaboration with charities, government agencies, and harnessing the support of the
Renowned global chains like Hilton, IHG and Marriott transformed vacant hotel rooms across the
world into spaces for healthcare staff; as additional treatment facilities where capacity was needed,
or to provide a safe space for staff who needed to quarantine.
And hotels and numerous holiday parks were also used to house the homeless across the UK as the
pandemic put those living on the streets at greater risk.
Employers also linked up furloughed staff with other essential services, lending their skills to support
foodbanks or essential deliveries.
Campaigns like #FeedTheHeath in Cardiff saw restaurants who couldn’t service the public pivot to
feeding key workers, with local businesses raising thousands to support the effort.
Organisations like London-based Hospitality Against Homelessness linked up hospitality employer
partners with charities looking to supply meals to the homeless, in addition to setting up an
emergency pay gap fund to bridge the 20% furlough gap at the onset of the pandemic.
And the website Hospitality Delivers was set up to showcase initiatives of restaurants, hotels and
individuals that support frontline workers, documenting the ‘remarkable acts of generosity’ enacted
by a sector in crisis.
The industry still has a long way to go to recover from the hardships of the past 16 months. But
invaluable lessons have been learned, and new insights gained into ways of doing business,
collaborating and engaging with communities. These lessons will enable the sector to take forward
new skills, new ideas, endure future challenges and capitalise on opportunities that arise amid
By Dr Clare Holt, programme lead at Learna