Jennifer Johansson, CEO of recruitment firm Placed says hospitality businesses must adapt if they want to survive COVID-19
Coronavirus does not discriminate in who it hits. We have seen everyone from Prince Charles and the prime minister to frontline health workers and young children affected. The virus has impacted human life as we know it and its impact is being felt especially among the business community.
The impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality sector
As the backbone of the UK economy, the hospitality sector makes up a large proportion of the country’s 5.9m small businesses that contribute to half the turnover in the private sector each year.
The hospitality sector with its 3.2m employees is being hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, where we could potentially see hundreds of thousands of people unemployed as businesses continue to navigate the unknown.
This is particularly stark in more remote, tourist-reliant parts of the country where the usual Easter influx of visitors was non-existent.
But for every business struggling to adapt, there are more who are agile enough to do so, and are coming up with the solutions that can lead the rebuild. The spirit of community is hugely important at this current time; and what we will see is that the business owners who are innovating in the interim will be the ones who will find it easier to bounce back.
Lessons in adaption
The optimism of a sector that provides entertainment and social interaction to so many of us will allow it to be one of the industries that overcome the pandemic in stronger ways than others.
There are a number of short-term solutions that are doing long-term good, and you can see them everywhere you look. Many small restaurants and cafes have taken to helping local supermarkets by selling or donating their fresh produce – items like eggs or vegetables, since being shut down; others, such as pubs, have used this opportunity to support their local communities by donating their fresh food to local charities to help feed the homeless.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of restaurants are repurposing their own services through tech to deliver to their customers.
Using tech to survive
Even more creative, technology-driven solutions are also emerging within the sector, with businesses and communities alike collaborating to help one another.
In our business, we have launched a community support page where users are able to share their stories and access available jobs in other sectors while restaurants and bars are closed.
We are also collaborating with the Food and Drink Federation to find alternative roles for those left without jobs, by highlighting their transferable skills that could be used in food manufacturing, production, packaging and processing, amongst other key roles. These types of solutions are still needed because, as it stands, small businesses are yet to be given clear guidance on the next steps to secure their futures.
It remains to be seen how efficiently the Government will implement its bailout plans; whether it is lowering interest rates, cutting business rates or offering loans.
Many small businesses have been told by bank staff that they are not ready to process applications for loans and have not yet received instructions on how to deal with the government scheme. The current rules also set out that no interest will be paid for a year, but this assumes that the crisis will have been averted by then.
We can’t rely on government support
Ultimately, what this all means is that many entitled to be furloughed will, after three months, find themselves unemployed with few routes back into work as companies freeze hiring while they assess the damage of the crisis.
The US saw a record 6.6m people file for unemployment in just 14 days – a number which will only continue to rise. The UK cannot delay its own population being in the same position – jobs have to be safeguarded where possible in the long-term, and those that cannot need to be given tools to find work in other sectors where their skills are needed.
In order to come through the crisis, everyone needs to play their part as a community.
Offering unique tech-led approaches that help small businesses survive by reaching new and existing customers is highly valued, which means new jobs for sectors that didn’t traditionally consider themselves digital.
As a sector that’s ready to pull up our bootstraps and do the work, optimism is key for hospitality firms to weather the current storm.