Stay resilient, innovate and dance again

Many in our industry this year have lost dearly. More will be lost, I believe, before this thing is done. While all economic sectors have been hit, the impact of coronavirus on hospitality, leisure and travel has been massive. Revenues, reserves, reservations and, of course sadly, jobs are going or have gone, some never to return. Without repeating them here, the numbers are just staggering.

Yet even before Covid-19 dominated our lives and livelihoods we have faced many challenges in recent years: the credit crisis, low interest rates, the uncertainty of Brexit to name but a few.

We know that hospitality is about taking care – the concept is embedded in our industry – but what we have learned in the last few months, if we didn’t know already, is that it is also about taking care of our hospitality businesses.

In the hotel sector change has been coming for a long time with guest expectations evolving ever more quickly, meaning that as fast as the hotel industry needed to adapt, it has to do so now at a greater speed.

Change is hard. But we are having to embrace it now and rather than accept a bleak future that Rocco Forte spoke of recently, hotel owners and operators need to loosen their business structures to adapt successfully.

At Signature Living we have been hit quite severely, with more than 25 health and safety and licensing checks since we reopened after the first lockdown. We’ve felt, as I am sure others have, that we have had to follow a constantly evolving rule book – like tap dancing again at pace.

These ever-changing rules and guidelines reflect, to my mind, a lack of understanding of the situation in hospitality. Surely it would be far better to create a set of rules for the next six months and keep to them rather than this knee jerk path that seems to flow between scientific reason and political positioning.

To help us, I would like to see a VAT rebate, which relates to the amount passed over to HMRC last year. It is fair to say that many companies will not survive this crisis and with it HMRC will lose a huge amount of revenue. In some way we all work for HMRC and with it they have a vested interest to ensure our survival. Rather than push funds through the banks and their closed coffers, these funds should flow through the same conduits that HMRC gained its payments.

I believe 20% VAT return would suffice and ensure not only jobs, but also the survival of an industry that is embedded within our culture and is vital to the vibrancy of our cities. This is especially true of Liverpool, heavily dependent as it is on its visitor destination status.

Is it likely? Fat chance. So, what we have done is to try and reinvent ourselves and although our bookings are down on last year we have performed well. We knew we had to trade on our most valuable space which is the 24,000 sq ft outdoor area of The Shankly Hotel enabling us to attract locally based guests, given the lack of tourists.

Three socially distanced events on the roof during July and August ensured our occupancy levels were very high and gave us some momentum before the second lockdown; enough in fact to register 80% weekday occupancy and up to 95% at the weekends.

Since then we have devised The Pillow Club which will be launched as soon as we are given the green light to reopen in at least a Tier 2 scenario. Each room can have six people stay and we will provide a live DJ feed to each room It’s the ultimate going out but staying in safe party night, again aimed at attracting local custom looking for variety in all this tedium. It is an ideal solution for the time in which we live.

I’m lucky my hotel business is small enough to be adaptable, but all of us have to keep on trying irrespective of the circumstances; our cities, our employees and our people need us to.

The hospitality, leisure and travel sectors, as well as the events sector have never experienced anything like this with the impact being felt by everyone from operators to investors, owners to employees as well the supply chains.

Our businesses will return when the negative narrative stops, and with a vaccine now on the horizon there is hope that will be sooner rather than later. But in the meantime, stay resilient, innovate and dance again. What choice do we have? Change is the new norm while uncertainty surrounds us.

By Lawrence Kenwright, founder, Signature Living

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