A Liverpool hotelier has called on the Government to consult more closely with leaders in the hospitality industry to ensure that the sector is not destroyed by the latest rise in the spread of the coronavirus.
The call comes as the latest round of measures are putting even greater pressure on the sector, with many employers fearing their businesses may not survive another extended lockdown.
Lawrence Kenwright, the co-founder of the embattled Signature Living Group, has warned that without a co-devised plan to protect hospitality then worse will follow for a sector which has already been decimated in 2020.
Signature Living operates numerous hotels, apartments, restaurants and event venues across the UK with a number of their property assets having fallen into administration as a direct result of the pandemic’s impact. The jewel in their crown is The Shankly Hotel in Liverpool, currently the subject of a four-part BBC1 primetime documentary series, The Grand Party Hotel which Signature Living continues to operate.
While the Shankly Hotel remains open for the time being, observing all Covid-related Government guidelines, as well as regularly receiving a deep clean, Mr Kenwright has had to temporarily close the Arthouse Hotel, Signature Living Stanley Street and the popular Alma de Cuba venue.
Mr Kenwright said: “There is an obvious lack of experience in hospitality and tourism in the cabinet and this needs to change. Sending thousands of people out on the streets at 10pm all at the same time to party at home via the supermarket is a shambles and can only add to the spread of the virus. The Government needs to listen to the sector so we can help them and protect our industry at the same time.
“As a sector we are walking a constant tightrope. For example, Alma De Cuba before lockdown would continually achieve sales in excess of £50k for Saturday night, last Saturday we achieved sales of just £3k. Responsible operators can protect their customers within their premises better than on the streets. Clearly we can no longer keep sites open that are now clearly making a loss.
“In my view, to come out of this recession and the virus, which is here to stay at least until March, we need a steadfast plan, co-created by leaders in our industry, properly endorsed where each enforcer understands what they are allowed to enforce and a plan which we and our customers can more easily understand.
“By pooling the depth of knowledge of leaders in this sector, who know better than anyone the needs of staff and customers, we can guide and advise on options for robust and safer ways to operate.”
According to UKHospitality, which represents the interests of the nation’s bars, coffee shops, contract catering, hotels, nightclubs, visitor attractions and other leisure venues, the hospitality sector employs 2.9 million people and generates £130bn in economic activity.
It is the third largest private sector employer in the UK, double the size of financial services and bigger than automotive, pharmaceuticals and aerospace combined.
Now working with its investors to rebuild the company, Signature Living has been continuing with several developments during the pandemic and plans to open more venues in the coming months.
But Mr Kenwright fears that if the Government does not approach this phase of the crisis in a more inclusive way then what is to come will be worse than when the crisis first broke in the spring. Last week Liverpool City Region’s political leaders called for urgent financial support in the wake of new coronavirus restrictions.
They fear that measures restricting social gatherings in pubs, bars and restaurants will have a particularly significant impact on the Merseyside economy given its reliance on hospitality and tourism. The industries account for half of the business rates that fund public services in Liverpool.
Mr Kenwright said: “We need to protect our businesses, our employees, their families and our cities and towns so we can help lead the recovery after the worst of this devastating pandemic has passed.
“We are at war with this disease. In a war, industry leaders are added to a war cabinet to help guide when extraordinary measures are needed so as to secure the best outcome. This was needed when we were talking about manufacturing and distribution of PPE, testing and test and trace, it just didn’t happen. We need a seat at the table because at this point the only voice of reason comes from the scientific sector, with very little consideration for the huge devastation caused through the lack of jobs. Unemployment may rise to 15%, up from 3.9%.
“Let’s also not forget that we may sit within the tourism sector, but we engage with many other sectors outside and we clearly will have to tighten our belts with other companies we contract with. How can our Ministers, many of whom have never employed a single person, be left to preside over the culling of the UK’s workforce. This new form of collaboration is urgently needed for the tourism and hospitality sector or the consequences will be dire, if not irreparable.”