The hospitality and leisure sector has been one of the areas most badly impacted by COVID-19, with pubs, bars, restaurants, gyms, leisure centres and other leisure facilities having to close. This has caused substantial distress in the sector with the full impact yet to become clear. What is clear is that the industry faces a period of uncertainty and readjustment.
Businesses are having to consider and act in response to the current position but also, following the immediate aftermath of lockdown, address how they may perform once through the worst of the current situation. Most will properly be prioritising cash flow management and cost reduction in order to survive, whilst supporting staff and minimising redundancies, having previously invested heavily in their teams. It will be important to maintain the goodwill of staff and engage with teams as much as possible through the crisis, to retain loyalty and continuity for when the business is able to reopen its doors. Equally important will be engagement with customers during this time as their future choices may be affected by how they perceive a business reacted and dealt with the crisis.
This is a very human crisis and those who demonstrate humanity during this time will win the loyalty of their staff and customers and attract new ones. Letting the market know your plans and being proactive will be key. Some operators have engaged proactively with their local community, for example by delivering food parcels to vulnerable members of the community and making donations to health workers; actions which have been well received. Customers may have different values, desires and preferences as a consequence of the crisis and time can usefully be used now to develop innovative ideas for when the business is back to full steam.
It is hoped that through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme redundancies will be kept to a minimum. Clear communication of policies and reasons for implementation should help win loyalty from the workforce.
However, some workers will have returned home overseas so it may be unclear whether the shape and size of a future workforce will be the same. Careful modelling will need to be considered. Remote working and the use of technology forced on business will be transformative for many and some sectors are already reporting that the future use of technology will streamline working practices and improve profitability. As to how this will translate into the hospitality and leisure industry is yet to be seen.
Recovery strategies will need to be put in place for the return to work. Careful consideration will need to be given to likely supply and demand, whether former suppliers will still exist, whether different products will be required. New costings will have to be factored into cash flow forecasts.
Alternative revenue streams - Businesses have been looking to maintain income through alternative offerings such as food takeaway, delivery or recipe boxes for home cooks. Others are considering a change of use for sites.
For some financially healthy operators, this will be an opportunity to acquire new business lines, refresh sites or take on key workers to bolster an already successful offering. These operators may need to be ready to move quickly with funding lines and professional advisors onboard.
With the fast-changing nature of this pandemic, it is easy for businesses to feel overwhelmed. However, attention must be turned to recovery and being proactive in ensuring that your business has a clear strategy for the challenges of now and those in the future will enable the hospitality and leisure sector to open its doors again in as strong and as safe a position as possible.