Clearing 2021

As another national lockdown comes to an end and tiered restrictions return to England, industries continue to face sustained challenges. Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive of UK Hospitality, believes that the hospitality sector is “in intensive care” for the fourth quarter of this year and that it was “imperative” the lockdown ended on the 2nd December to allow venues to cash in on the lucrative festive season.

However, for many hospitality and events venues, the end of the second national lockdown has beget more troubles – with many still subject to strict restrictions due to their regional tiers.

One such city is Manchester – and on the day local restrictions for the festive season were announced, the Edge Hotel School was joined by four Manchester-based hoteliers who have been navigating the coronavirus storm since March 2020.

Students were invited to listen in and contribute to a frank and engaging discussion about how the hospitality industry is adapting to COVID19 and the incredible efforts of all those involved in the sector in delivering a safe and enjoyably customer experience amid the pandemic.

Joining Edge were Adrian Ellis (General Manager at the Lowry Hotel), Matt Townley (General Manager at the Dakota Manchester), Paul Bayliss MBE (General Manager at Hotel Brooklyn Manchester) and Annie Brown (Regional Managing Director at Macdonald Hotels and General Manager of the Macdonald Manchester).

Manchester has seen a huge boom in hospitality and leisure businesses over the past few decades, with no signs of slowing down. For many hospitality students, the draw of Manchester may be lost on them in comparison to London – but Paul was very quick to share his thoughts on Manchester’s position as the UK’s second city. ‘Manchester has got an awful lot going on, […] and because of the diversity and the fact it’s at a bit of a boom town in Europe, it’s had more growth than any other city in Europe so there’s a lot more going on. There are opportunities, certainly, to be gaining long-term employment in a role that you want to do. There’s more scope in Manchester.’

However, with further restrictions being placed on Manchester at a crucial time for generating income in hospitality, how were the panellists feeling about their organisation’s ability to withstand the difficulties they were facing and the city’s resilience needed to continue its upward trajectory?

On the announcement of further restrictions to hospitality venues in Manchester, Matt expressed the feelings of many. ‘It’s disappointing, and the message to my team throughout this crisis would be not to trivialise COVID – it is absolutely a terrible, terrible disease that’s gone around, and if you do know people that have been effected by it, it’s really serious. However, that said, not to be too political here – but our industry is almost being singled out as a driver of infection rates – and it’s hard to stomach.’

Adrian shared these feelings, and expressed some optimism for the new announced vaccinations. On the government’s announcements, he said ‘the timing is shocking. Next week is the start of our Christmas season and we would normally expect people coming in for meals, to use the bar, and people coming into to do their Christmas shopping in the city centre – this is a time when all of us would be making a fairly sizeable chunk of our yearly income […] I agree with Matt that we’ve been singled out – shops can still open, even hairdressers can still open. […] All of us are hoping that in two weeks’ time when they review it again, maybe we’ll be in Tier 2, but we don’t know that of course. Further afield, I mean we’re very, very excited that the vaccines been announced and that in theory should mean from spring onwards, some sort of normality can return.’

On moving forwards from COVID19, Annie was philosophical. ‘Ultimately, we all want to come out the other side and we want to be able to be here to continue the story – rebuild and reshape what the future looks like, which will be a very, very different industry I believe. It’s made us and forced us all to look at the way we do things, how we can do things better, more efficiently – and I am sure that will improve and shape our future.’

The Coronavirus pandemic was not the only topic of conversation. The panellists also discussed how Brexit may impact the workforces of hospitality and events organisations, and the fundamental retooling of the events sector to cope with our new way of life.

Watch the video of the panel discussion below.