This week your correspondent was in Cannes during the festival and can confirm two things: Jessica Chastain is pretty petite and if you show a global community the chance to dress up and hang out on the Riviera, they will swarm there en masse, leaving a trail of sequins and champagne bills.
This is exactly what the hotel sector is looking forward to, once everything goes Back To Normal. An explosion of jubilance, spending and sequins. A sudden forgetting about the pandemic and a return to 2019, but minus the niggling supply fears.
What is becoming apparent, in trickles and surges, is that there will be no Back To Normal for a while. In France this week Emmanuel Macron told the nation that the pandemic would continue for the rest of this year and some months of the next, so if they wanted to go to restaurants they’d better get vaccinated (900,000 people promptly booked vaccinations). In England Boris Johnson said that it was time to go Back To Normal and there was an initial flutter of hope that yes, the pandemic was over.
Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality tonight commented: “Confirmation that social distancing measures will be lifted next Monday brings huge relief for hospitality venues hoping to finally head back towards normal trading in England. A week from now, for the first time in 16 months they will be able to move towards profitability, which is vital for the future of a sector beset by Covid-related debts.
“For profitability to be reached as soon as possible, it’s vital that businesses are able to reach their own solutions, to suit their settings, satisfy their risk assessments and optimise implementation costs while ensuring safety. The voluntary nature of the government guidance should ensure that this is achievable.”
However, this was followed by assorted airlines, TFL and the WHO saying that they’d really rather people kept the masks on and the licking to a minimum. Then there were mumblings from the government about how maybe nightclubs should ask to see vaccine passports. They wouldn’t legislate for it, of course, but you know, they might. Maybe. Oh and maybe vaccine passports for hospitality in the autumn. Perhaps. More uncertainty of the kind which has banjaxed travel and events.
In the meantime, government support for hotels in the UK is being pulled back and the message which cannot be overturned, even by TFL, is that you’ve had everything you’re getting off us, get back to work, you’re on your own. In case hotels felt they were being picked on, those in need overseas were given the same message and if you’re a black footballer it wasn’t the greatest few days either.
So we are – finally – heading into what we here at NewDog are thinking of as the Quarter of Reckoning (cue flames). The tablecloth of government support has been whipped away and there aren’t enough guests or staff to catch all the glassware before it crashes to the ground. Hotels have spent the past year and a half trying to point this out, but the hoped-for minister for hospitality never materialised, the rent tsunami is still blocking out the sun and with pockets pinging to self isolate, it’s not looking too chipper.
Not exactly the red carpet experience. And not uplifting news for those who have already ground their way through so much.
But what we will see over the next few months are some pretty feisty deals as private equity leads the charge, but also tenaciousness and cunning. This pandemic has been a walking, talking live lesson in working the angles and operators have been trying everything; from takeaways to rooms as offices to complete overhauls of technology to make their hotels work better and more profitably. It hasn’t been pleasant, but think of that nice Jessica Chastain. Great DNA, no doubt, but do you get to act and look that great without effort? The view from this side of the red carpet is probably not.