On March 20th, Switzerland went into a national shutdown of all non-essential businesses. This included the closing of all bars, restaurants, hotels, etc. As the hospitality industry faces the largest global shutdown in history, the short-term and long-term implications on this industry are matters of speculation. How will the industry bounce back? What does the future hold? How can the industry recuperate losses? From the paramountcy of the industry to the need to go digital and become more resource-efficient, see what Ian Millar, a senior lecturer at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, has to say about the situation.
How do you see the impact of this lockdown on the hospitality industry? How can we make the most of this time (and what can we learn from this in order to better prepare in the future)?
We are into week 4 of lockdown here in Switzerland, and with all hotels, restaurants and cafes closed, hospitality has been hit hard. Our industry, especially independents who have limited cash flows, will be the hardest hit. We will need governments, hospitality associations and each other to get through this. On how to better prepare in the future, well, there are far more intelligent people than myself to answer that. But what I think we need to do as an industry is to put in place contingency plans for such events in the future. This needs to be a discussion point that we discuss and plan as a whole.
What are some of the changes you expect to see in the industry in the coming months?
What I expect, or actually I hope, is support for local businesses once we start to come out of this. I think we will see a move towards more locally sourced produce and support for independent businesses. As these events have effectively hit “pause” on 2020, I believe people will take stock on how we were behaving before and why maybe just slowing down a bit is actually a good thing.
Should we be worried?
Yes and No. No, because we will come back from this, but hopefully with a better perspective on how we use the resources of this planet. Yes, because our industry, which was already on dangerous ground, has had a “punch in the gut” that some will not be able to recover from without aid from their governments.
Where are the opportunities in this all for the industry?
We need to seriously rethink supply chain and use of local produce. We need hotels and restaurants to work on a more local basis. This will create resilience for the future. Hospitality is a global industry, and in some countries we are the largest sector for GDP. We are important for economics and employment, and governments need to realise this moving forward and give more support to our industry.
How can we make the most of this time?
Learn! Take online courses, learn new things, and gain new skills that could help you recover your business once we are through this. One example I have seen is Google offering a free digital marketing course in their “Google Garage”. As a whole we are not the best industry when it comes to technology skills, so could this be the time to get more “digital”.
What should companies focus on to recuperate any losses?
Wherever you are, look to what your government is offering. We have paid taxes for years, and now is the time to ask for that help. Once we're through this, we need to think about how we restart our businesses. It’s not about going back to the revenues we had before COVID-19, but we should look at “profit”. What will be the best way to run our businesses once we reopen?
How can we, the industry, cut costs and increase profits once we start running again?
Rethink everything. As horrible as these recent events have been, we should as an industry take stock and time to think how we do business and define success. On top of this, we must start making better use of data. We need to move to making data driven decisions for our businesses. If we talk about food, is it not time we rethink our menus? Maybe menu reduction? What ingredients are we using and from what supplier? Is it not time to ensure our staff are efficiently prepping our food, and making the most of our produce to reduce food waste? Rethinking portion sizes and menu prices.
For people who have been in lockdown for weeks, and as one of those people, I cannot wait to go back to a restaurant. For good food (not necessarily a lot, as in lockdown we have been eating too much) and more importantly for good company!
Hospitality businesses need to get back to what we always meant to be, places for people to meet, and have a good time with good company.
A hospitality IT specialist at the core, Ian Millar actively uses his breadth of knowledge by speaking about latest IT trends and advising hotel companies about technological challenges they face. Along with his role as senior lecturer at the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne and managing final bachelor projects, he also assists startups in entering the industry, using his global network to create value wherever possible. Today he focused on COVID-19 with us, analysing its current and future implications on the hospitality industry, and what we can do about it.