With the end of restrictions on the horizon, so-called ‘Freedom Day’ is now achingly close for the hospitality sector.
For over 12 months, the sector has yo-yoed in and out of lockdowns, adapting to an abundance of ever-changing restrictions, each negatively affecting turnover and presenting operational challenges.
For hospitality, it has been the greatest crisis ever known, and while the end of restrictions is the moment we have all waited for, there is a long road to recovery ahead. The reopening journey for operators has not been smooth. Initially, while only able to trade outside, our great British weather did everything it could to dampen spirits and often operators were forced to close.
Significant staff shortages are a very real problem, with the Brexit effect starting to be felt by an industry heavily reliant on overseas workers. This and legal requirements to self-isolate for 10 days if contacted by a track-and-trace system of questionable accuracy is crippling hospitality, as entire teams are being forced home. Many venues have been forced to close as they simply do not have enough staff to open. Urgent reform is required.
Sacha Lord, a huge voice for the industry and night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said recently “now the hard work really starts” and “Recovery Day” is a more fitting description for the end of restrictions.
Hospitality businesses are now rebuilding and the government must continue to provide support through business rates relief and tax reform. Many hospitality businesses have taken on debt to survive and while government initiatives have helped, they have not been enough. The government needs to recognise that the sector has an enormous role to play in the UK’s economic recovery.
The moratorium on commercial evictions, originally put in place to protect tenants, has now been extended in what was interpreted as a ‘quick win’ for the government in doing something positive for the sector. But extending this until next year is hindering the sector’s recovery by protecting businesses that in many cases unfortunately were not viable pre-pandemic.
Most of our landlord clients have been incredibly proactive in agreeing terms and payment plans with tenants and have experienced very few vacancies. The moratorium extension is not serving landlords unable to take possession of properties with ‘zombie tenants’ in situ nor the operators that will drive the sector’s recovery.
Market forces must be allowed to take hold to release much-needed sites, not to mention the staff they are keeping on furlough. As agents, we are seeing very little movement in the market despite a huge number of requirements from hospitality operators.
The past 15 months have brought great disruption. But we have also seen a public demonstration of support, showing the importance of the hospitality sector to British life and culture. Being active in the West End, we have seen it roar back to life as people flock in hungry for culture and experience. Hospitality will play a crucial role in revitalising city centres.
Camilla Topham is co-founder of Distrkt and Residency