As the hospitality and tourism sector reels, we look at the thoughts of industry experts as they gear up for ‘The New Normal’
SIR ROCCO FORTE
Interviewed by the BBC’s HardTalk, Forte revealed he’d had COVID-19, ‘like a very bad flu’, but not been hospitalised. As for the industry: “It’s as if a nuclear bomb has gone off. I’ve never run a business with no income before.” Forte estimated the crisis would cost his business £50m. Questioned about his own wealth, he said it was tied up in the hotels, he was not a billionaire: “I don’t have £50m in my pocket, or I’d put it in.”
The furlough scheme had been ‘sensational’, but staff might still face cuts: “My biggest nightmare is that if this goes on for much longer I’m going to have to make people redundant, but not through any fault of their own, or of mine.” Staff were longing to return – recognising there would be significantly changed processes for sanitising and disinfecting. “Normally a bedroom in a luxury hotel takes half an hour to clean properly; it’s going to take an hour instead.”
Looking ahead to post-COVID-19, he felt the ‘success of government propaganda had left people terrified’. For the luxury hotel market there was the dilemma that guests didn’t want to face temperature checks or be surrounded by PPE and surveillance cameras.
“I’ve been through some difficult times in my life. I’ve got through and moved forward again, now another crisis – we’re facing it in an intelligent way, and we’ll get through it. Things will return, I think, so that by spring of next year they could look very different. The doom and gloomsters are always around. We’ll come back and be very successful again.”
The founder of Shorthouse Hospitality International (SHI), a hospitality services and human resources consultancy spanning the globe is also a Brand Ambassador for the Institute of Hospitality. He’s been holding regular online ‘coffee and cakes’ sessions with other business leaders.
The Shorthouse message is: “Be realistic. Nine times out of 10 you’ve actually got all the precautions in place. For those of you who have a workforce where English isn’t the first language: remember this needs to be an easy process for everyone, so KISS – Keep it Simple Simon.”
While welcoming properly used hand sanitisers, he says: “Washing your hands is the most effective way to remove dirt, germs etc from your hands. Hand sanitisers are an additional measure, so please make sure you are still encouraging both your staff and your guests to wash their hands frequently.”
And while much of the focus is on guest-facing staff he’s urging team leaders not to forget back of house workers and any staff accommodation. As for guests: “Remember people are going on holiday, not going to visit a hospital.”
The MD of Rockliffe Hall, a 5-star resort with golf near Darlington, spoke about reassuring and supporting staff during an online Q&A run by Tees Business: “The key here is to keep them in the loop, to get them bought into all this so when we open they are ready, and ready to hit the ground running.
“Some of the team will have anxieties about coming into the hotel with strangers around, social distancing, being in close contact with customers so we have to invest in those people to make sure they’re ready to come back.”
Keeping in touch was vital. This had involved daily Zoom calls, a well-being survey and quizzes while dealing with the ‘minefield’ of issues like PPE and a phased return: “At the moment and it wouldn’t normally be, I’m one of the team, whereas before you’re always at the top on a pedestal. Your staff are your biggest asset, and yes, your biggest cost, but ultimately they are going to drive your business when it opens.”