Hoteliers in Bristol have cautiously welcomed the support for their sector which was outlined in the 2021 budget.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed extensions to the furlough scheme, business rates holiday and reduced VAT rate, all of which will help the hospitality industry get back into business as lockdown restrictions ease.
Restart grants of up to £18,000 are available to hotels and other hospitality businesses and planned increases in duty on alcohol have been cancelled for a second successive year.
Raphael Herzog, Chair of the Bristol Hoteliers Association, said his members welcomed the support extensions confirmed by the Chancellor on March 3 but warned that further support may still be needed as the nation slowly returns to normal.
He said: “The budget was satisfactory overall for us. It was, of course, a welcome relief when the Chancellor confirmed extensions to the furlough scheme, business rates holiday and VAT reduction. But we had hoped that these would remain at their current levels for the next 12 months in order to help us fully recover from the impact of the pandemic. We rely on large companies and travel for corporate business and meetings and still have concerns about whether this element of our business will be ready and willing to return to us in September. However, we are pleased that the Chancellor has extended the support available, as this will certainly help, and will provide us with some short-term stability and a platform from which we can now prepare to re-open our doors and welcome people back to our businesses, hopefully from 17 May.”
But Mr Herzog warned hotels still had many challenges to face on the road to recovery, not least of which is a potential staff shortage in the sector.
He said: “There is a growing number of hospitality businesses which are concerned that they won’t have the resources they need to meet what will hopefully be a high demand for accommodation and services. Many businesses have been forced to restructure in order to survive the lockdown, which has inevitably resulted in lower staff members. Other staff members who have been concerned about their long-term prospects because of the pandemic have chosen to change careers completely and others have returned to their home countries. Changes in immigration rules as a result of Brexit add to the challenge.”
“We know that when restrictions were eased last August, people wasted no time in treating themselves to meals in restaurants, returning to bars and booking breaks in hotels. We’re hoping for huge demand for our services from May 17, but there is a question mark over whether the sector will be able to find enough staff to cope with this demand. We need to work with the government, colleges and other agencies and organisations to positively promote the many diverse and exciting career opportunities in our sector. Prior to the pandemic, there was a widespread chef shortage throughout the sector, and that will not have been helped by the lockdown restrictions and all the uncertainty that it created. We need to actively look at ways of attracting more people to our industry so that we are able to meet the huge demands our businesses will face once the lockdown is over. One option could be to forge stronger relationships with the many excellent colleges in this country to encourage people at the very beginning of their working lives to seriously consider careers in hospitality. But to succeed in that, we’re going to need to find ways of making our sector more attractive, so as well as planning on when we can start re-stocking, we are also all going to have to start working now on positive recruitment strategies. The hospitality industry is often seen as a low-wage industry and is therefore less attractive to potential recruits.”
In December 2019, the results of a salary survey from 15 of Bristol’s top hotels showed some statistically significant median salary increases in 2019 compared to the previous year.
While that momentum has been halted by the lockdown restrictions, Mr Herzog said it shows that the sector knows what it needs to do – and what it can do – to attract the right calibre of new recruits; hotels just need the financial stability to be able to do it, something that will be helped by this week’s budget.