We take a look at the effect Covid-19 has had on hospitality in a selection of destinations
MALTA AND GOZO By Dr Julian Zarb FIH, Researcher and Local Tourism Planning Consultant and Academic
Managing a global pandemic in one of the smallest states in the European Union should have been simple enough because Malta and Gozo are islands in the Mediterranean and therefore the only access is by air or sea; and there is a population of only 500,000. But perhaps the biggest challenge was admitting that the pandemic could affect the islands. These are the most densely populated areas in Europe and there was only one partial lockdown between April and June 2020; then there was the mistaken strategy to reopen tourism through “safe corridors”.
In June 2020, live cases were still in three figures and there were nine deaths; since then, there have been live cases of between 250 and 510 per day and the death rate has gone up to 390. Even scarier, the government is set on reviving tourism again this summer; this is not a responsible and safe decision given the outbreaks across Europe and the uncertainty in the UK. A destination must be secure, reliable and responsible before accepting visitors again. In Malta and Gozo, it seems politics, economy and egocentricity come before safety and care. We need to learn lessons from these errors and manage tourism responsibly and sustainably in future.
SRI LANKA By new chairperson of IoH Marissa Jayamanne FIH
Despite Covid-19, the Institute in Sri Lanka has had an dynamic year, delivering training and academic courses to the armed forces and hotels, face to face until October and then online.
An aggregate 89 army trainees attended a Restaurant & Kitchen Operations Basics course given by Ruckshan Fernando FIH, which comprised a range of skills and insights, including making simple stocks, sauces and soups; food hygiene and safety, and constructing menus, plus elementary communication in English. The 8-day programme ended with the recruits cooking a Sri Lankan Buffet before the IoH and senior army officials presented them with certificates. Training continues this year.
Staff at Laya Leisure Holiday Resort Kukuleganga enjoyed basic food & beverage demonstrations, which covered waiting skills, table etiquette, menus and more for 88 employees. And 47 supervisory staff members of Bentota / Beruwala Hotel Association had wine training and tasting, sponsored by Perceyl Pvt Ltd. Others will follow. Students of NSBM Green University will also benefit from monthly IoH knowledge sharing programmes this year.
The Institute’s relationship with the university was cemented with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at a ceremony in February that also celebrated the launch the NSBM Department of Marketing and Tourism Faculty, hosted by the Institute and Professor E.A. Weerasinghe, Vice Chancellor of NSBM Green University.
DUBAI By Michael Newnham FIH, Associate Dean at Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management
Dubai government authorities launched the Dubai Assured stamp to reassure visitors that each hotel, restaurant, retail outlet and attraction fulfils strict safety and hygiene measures, in line with international health and safety standards and protocols.
Each business receives the Dubai Assured stamp once its compliance has been validated. This lasts for 15 days, when the establishment will be verified again by inspectors, and the stamp renewed. A spike in cases of Covid-19 in January and February across the UAE was brought under control through a rapid vaccination drive, public awareness campaigns and strong enforcement of relevant protocols. Government reports indicate that 8 million doses of mainly the Sinopharm and PfizerBioNTech Covid-19 vaccines have so far been administered across the country and cases have fallen dramatically as a result.
In Dubai, the hospitality industry has rebounded strongly since late last year, and most residents and visitors have been going about their daily lives, though mask-wearing remains mandatory outdoors and in indoor public spaces, and heavy fines are imposed on those who breach the rules. Overall, government action in Dubai and UAE has led to major progress here in the battle against Covid-19 and the mood is upbeat.
SAUDI ARABIA By Tim Cordon MIH, Senior Area Vice President, Middle East & Africa, Radisson Hotel Group
There is no doubt that the past months have been difficult for everyone, with life turned on its head almost overnight. On the positive side, the government has been supporting the industry with a recovery strategy that has effectively strengthened the tourism and hospitality sectors, while ensuring all safety and security measures are in place.
In tourist areas particularly, we have seen stakeholders implementing health and safety protocols where needed in airports, tourist sites, public areas and hotels, and all these measures have impacted on the tourism sector, as we regained travellers’ trust. As a result, we have benefited from increased occupancy levels during the past six months – particularly in resorts, where they exceeded 70% – with demand for staycations in Saudi Arabia higher than in 2019. While people’s behaviour or priorities have changed, they will want to reunite with their families and friends, and for that to happen, we believe many will consider pursuing international travel once the circumstances allow.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a key development area and Radisson Hotel Group’s ambitions across the region have remained the same. We recently announced the opening of Park Inn by Radisson Jeddah Madinah Road and Park Inn by Radisson Riyadh, and we continue to open hotels. Our teams are working hard to keep these signings and openings on track, and I am very proud of their achievements.
Looking at the bigger picture, we have all been reminded of what is important and that we are all in this together, regardless of industry and geography. Times like these also tell us about the importance of human connections and we are committed to continuing to protect the health of our team members, guests and business partners.
NEW ZEALAND By Dr Anthony Brien PhD, MSc Mgmt, FIH, CMIoD, LCGI, Senior Lecturer Business and Hotel Management and Programme Director: Bachelor of Commerce – Hotel and Tourism Management at Lincoln University, Christchurch
Like the rest of the world, New Zealand has been hit hard by COVID-19. While being an island has played to our advantage, words cannot adequately describe the destruction the virus has wreaked on the hospitality industry. New Zealand’s ‘go early, go hard’ tactic to stopping the virus entering the country saw borders closed on March 20, 2020 to everyone except returning New Zealanders and essential workers.
The positive outcome of this approach meant that by the end of January 2021, there were only 25 deaths from Covid-19 and 2,288 cases of the virus caught in our Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ) hotels. Since April 9, 2020, anyone entering New Zealand must spend 14 days in a MIQ hotel that is closed to the public and guarded by the military. These people are restricted in their movements, Covid-tested regularly and must provide a negative test before leaving MIQ.
A five-week country lockdown started on March 25, 2020 and gradually moved down levels to June 8, 2020 when life in New Zealand returned to (almost) pre-Covid status. Although we are required to wear masks while flying within New Zealand and on public transport in Auckland, and to scan the Covid-19 sign when going into businesses, there are no restrictions on gatherings, distancing, etc. MIQs have been positive for the 30 hotels involved; with 100% guaranteed occupancy at a solid rate paid by the government, and significantly reduced operational cost, this has saved some properties. However, overall (New Zealand) hotel revenue is down 40% due to lack of international tourists. Some hotels are in hibernation, yet hibernation still costs thousands of dollars each week. Tourism was (and we hope will again be) New Zealand’s largest foreign exchange earner and while domestic travel has increased, the $6 billion revenue loss from international visitors has seen hospitality take a hammering.
The country’s most significant job losses have been in tourism and the hospitality industry. The sector is busy at weekends and in holiday periods, but almost dead during the week, making it difficult to staff operations and plan forward. Significant challenges ahead include attracting and retaining employees when international travel re-starts (which it will) and providing sustainable careers to our important workforce.
What Covid-19 taught New Zealand was how valuable, economically and personally, tourism and the hospitality industry are to the country. At the same time, the next three months will be the most telling time for business survival as most establishments have used all their cash reserves, government grants and bank facilities. Business oxygen tanks are low, and it is anticipated some will not survive the next quarter – any organisation can only pivot, flex and change so much. We must be positive. As an industry, we have always been there for each other, been hospitable. We must stay connected now and be mutually supportive where we can. While we might be down, we are not out. We will be back even stronger in the future.
This article featured in the recently published HQ Magazine.