Bank of Ireland’s head of Hospitality Sector Gerardo Larios Rizo outlines what steps firms in the Irish hospitality sector need to consider as they prepare to roll out the red carpet and welcome guests.
As business prepare to welcome customers back into their premises in the land of a thousand welcomes the expectations are high on the domestic market.
The Irish Government’s recent announcement on the reopening of the hospitality sector in early June has been welcomed by business owners in the hospitality and tourism sector who must now organise their staff and prepare their facilities for what many (including me) believe could be a great summer for the sector in Ireland.
“Whilst I have been receiving a number of emails about places reopening I have yet to see one that talks about the other services and attractions on offer in the catchment area”
The reopening will prove challenging for some businesses as many have expressed difficulties in sourcing staff particularly temp staff like college students. The RAI estimates that nearly a third of restaurant and bar staff may have been lost to the sector due to Covid closures.
“The ability to adjust business models to available workforce will be paramount for a number of businesses as we exit the lockdown”
Hospitality is about making people feel welcome and comfortable, everything else is the cream on top. Business owners must recognise that some customers might be slightly reluctant to accept certain changes in business practices and must also be agile and learn and react to these changes; the age-old saying “the customer is always right” remains as true as ever.
Happy and well managed staff are crucial for the delivery of good service. There has been increased focus on mental health during the lockdown, your team’s good mental wellbeing might only make them want to stay longer but also provide a better more genuine better to your customers.
The government has rolled out a number of initiatives to try and tackle the staffing shortages in the sector, including the “Skills to Advance” launched by minister Harris last April. The phased lifting of restrictions will allow operators some extra time although the crucial training period for new entrants must be accounted for.
The ability to adjust business models to available workforce will be paramount for a number of businesses as we exit the lockdown.
Covid-19 has further accelerated the rise of “localism”, with many Irish customers switching from their favourite bars, restaurants and shops in favour of their local fore.
The focus on local business and amenities can present substantial opportunities for businesses; working together with your business community to welcome visitors can really improve on the customer experience.
A well organised “destination strategy” can have additional benefits like state funding and the potential to secure support from Fáilte Ireland grants as part of the ‘Project Ireland 2040 Strategy’.
It is important to communicate with local businesses including food producers, artists, transport etc. and find out how and when they might be opening and note any restrictions so that your customer base can plan ahead and get the most out of the visit.
Whilst I have been receiving a number of emails about places reopening I have yet to see one that talks about the other services and attractions on offer in the catchment area.
Tell your story
Unique experiences and stories can make customers fall in love with your business, during the lockdown many hoteliers, publicans and restauranteurs reached out to existing and potential customers in social media letting them know what they’ve been up to during the extended lockdown.
“Authentic and original content can really strike a chord with customers”
Renovation stories, details of new services, staff news and even pet pictures were all included in newsfeeds keeping people entertained, like the incredibly funny videos from Sean and Elaine Lally at the Woodstock in Ennis, Co Clare, or the Twitter feed from Olivia Duff at the Headfort Arms in Kells, Co Meath.
Authentic and original content can really strike a chord with customers. As food and heritage go hand in hand together incorporating a food element into your story is always an avenue worth exploring. The reopening of businesses will demand a lot from business owners but it’s important to maintain active engagement with your followers/customers and remind them where you are at what you stand for.
The lockdown challenged the hospitality sector’s relationships with customers and distribution channels for well over a year; the gradual easing of restrictions which begins later this month travel will finally see some of these restored.
“Whilst there is no certainty about provision of food and drink inside hotels, bars and restaurants, it is important that you keep a close eye on what the competition will be offering”
The disrupted market will present opportunities to new products and services as well as new entrants into the market as they capitalise on the displaced demand. Loyalty programs, flexibility on bookings and cancellations will be very important as businesses try to create and maintain loyal clientele.
At this stage it might also be relevant to re-evaluate what’s unique about your property and perhaps update your Strengths Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis (SWOT) to reflect the changes in the competitive environment and perhaps reflect this on your business plan.
Whilst there is no certainty about provision of food and drink inside hotels, bars and restaurants, it is important that you keep a close eye on what the competition will be offering, the lockdown has certainly inspired some innovative approaches to customer service and you probably don’t want to be left behind.
Cash flow is paramount
Over the last year the government, banks and numerous stakeholders to the sector have made allowances to support the sector.
“Make sure you stay alert of any grants and deadlines being released by regularly checking the government and industry bodies websites”
The reopening will coincide with the end of a number of these temporary arrangements which will undoubtedly put pressure on cash flows from the get-go. It is crucial for businesses to closely examine their cash inflow and outflow projections giving themselves ample breathing room as cash difficulties can add a lot of stress and take time that might be best spent tending to customers.
A number of supports are still available from Fáilte Ireland and additional ones could be released in the future, make sure you stay alert of any grants and deadlines being released by regularly checking the government and industry bodies websites.
Published: 10 May 2021