Hard-hit by the pandemic, hospitality could bounce back to enjoy something akin to the Roaring Twenties next year – if we get re-opening in 2021 right, according to a Gloucestershire business group.
That’s the message from TURF, a group representing 30-plus independent hospitality businesses from across Cheltenham, but it warns everyone needs to play their part to ensure progress continues.
And that doesn’t just mean observing social distancing and a successful vaccination roll-out, it also means the right support from the chancellor when he steps up to the dispatch box for the Budget on Wednesday 3 March 2021.
‘In a nutshell, the road map announcement from the government is positive for the UK,’ said Andrew Coates, a spokesperson for TURF and owner of Sandford Park Alehouse and Bath Road Beers.
‘As a sector we will be among the last to re-open, but we see it as a good runway to prepare. It is not a sector you can just turn back on – there is beer to brew, staff to train, legislation to digest, food to order and health and safety to think about.’
He added: ‘We would like to see a continuation of the VAT support at five per cent on soft drinks and food – and we would love to see it on ale as well – and we are also hoping for a review of duty.
‘We are also looking for an understanding of when furlough will stop and will the rates reprieve be continued for 2021?
‘This is not about “let’s just open and make money”. We won’t make money for a long time, maybe until the end of 2022.’
And neither is the sector expecting to make it through 2021 casualty free.
‘But, if we get it right, and we build for the rest of this year and get the right support a lot of people in the industry are talking about 2022 being like the Roaring Twenties,’ said Mr Coates, referring to the 1920s, an era characterised in the West by prosperity and hedonistic socialising.
TURF also called on customers book direct for accommodation, tables and takeaways, pointing out businesses lost a valuable percentage of each reservation made through some of the popular booking and takeaway websites.
Many businesses are offering discounts to customer who book direct.
Stephanie Ronssin (pictured above), a TURF member who runs Cheltenham French restaurant Domaine 16, said: ‘We are all excited to finally have a date to put in the dairy and see the light at the end of the tunnel.
‘For my part, Domaine 16 will be reopening at stage three on Monday 17 May 2021.
‘But we all think May is a long way away, so we will start a takeaway collection service from next week… and are looking to have some outside events by partnering with other TURF member businesses.
‘Our online booking system is open and starting to show some activity, I am feeling thankful and hopeful for the future.’
A speedy and positive reaction from customers with respect to bookings, has also been seen by other TURF members, including those who run hotels like Cleeve Hill Hotel, and have been reflected county-wide.
The 12-room hotel with its majestic views off the Cotswold escarpment, is offering those who book direct through its website a 10 per cent discount on reservations.
Not every member is of the same opinion, however.
‘Whilst the recent announcements and path out of social distancing is clearly a positive, the timescales feel too cautious especially as the financial assistance for many businesses is extremely low,’ said Callum Lister, of Ritual Coffee, a wholesale-based coffee roastery which also runs some of its own outlets.
‘It does allow us the ability to plan and gives clarity for our future operations, however the timescales seem overly dragged out considering the financial support has been reduced to an inadequate level and we are unable to operate in a profitable model for a further three months.
‘All whilst other avenues of society are opened up, where social distancing will be harder to enforce.’
Steve Gardner-Collins, who heads up Visit Gloucestershire, said the road map announcement has brought ‘hope’ to the tourism sector.
‘The initial response has been positive with demand for accommodation within minutes and things are looking really optimistic for May onwards.
‘We expect our self-catering offering in the county to be snapped up really quickly, with alternative providers following suit.
‘Tickets to some attractions were in demand really quickly, with families rushing to book things to do, particularly forward thinking to July and August, but it does look like the May half-term is when the 2021 season will begin.’
SoGlos’s weekly Business email newsletter, being distributed on Thursday 4 March 2021, will feature exclusive Budget commentary on the salient points courtesy of Gloucestershire experts Hazlewoods. Sign-up to receive the free SoGlos business newsletter, if you are not already subscribed.
By Andrew Merrell