UkHospitality: The final flourish

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, hopes for an end to social distancing come 21st June...

We are now on the final straight on the road to reopening and I have been looking back to February when the government announced that it hoped to be in a position to remove all legal limits on social contact by 21st June. Fast-forward, and with just days to go to what I fervently hope will be a red-letter day for all of us in the sector, we all want to see ‘hopes’ replaced with ‘will’. Or how about ‘must’? Because not having all restrictions dropped on that milestone day would be a devastating blow.

May’s indoor reopening of hospitality and the wider economy, which included the limited return to sporting occasions and other events, was undoubtedly a significant step, but one that is psychological rather than economic. Businesses are operating under conditions and restrictions that are making most of them unviable at present.

Only when restrictions are removed completely will the hospitality sector be able to flourish and start to rebuild. It will give a crucial boost to consumer confidence, seeing people return to offices, workplaces, sporting venues, visitor attractions and larger events in greater numbers. The success of the vaccination programme, as well as that of trial events such as the FA Cup Final and the BRITs at the O2 Arena (which I was fortunate enough to attend), puts us in a position where the government should have the confidence to give the sector the green light.

The experience of being back at a live event was fantastic, and for all those in attendance it was a reminder of the joys of pre-Covid normality and the type of shared social experience that has been desperately missed during the pandemic. Hospitality is so often at the centre of these experiences, and our sector can never truly flourish when social occasions and interactions are restricted.

A return to normality, however, will not just happen overnight once restrictions have been lifted. There will be a need for a concerted effort, from not just the sector but the government too, to encourage people back to offices, workplaces, business events and conferences, and to return to our towns and city centres. Of course, behaviours have and will continue to evolve as result of the pandemic and, while hospitality is more than capable to adapting, the effects of the past 15 months can’t be underestimated. There is no quick fix.

To deviate from this month’s unlocking would deal another potentially devastating blow to this already ravaged sector, and would also be psychologically damaging, not just for those operating and working in contract catering, but also to their clients. However, if the worst does happen, rest assured that UKHospitality will be pressing home the message that we are already giving to government: that delay must mean further support for our industry.

Let’s hope, then, that on 21st June we’re able to move forward restriction-free and get back to what we do best.

You may also be interested in…