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Meeting the post Brexit challenge requires leadership

Leadership is key to the hospitality industry meeting the post Brexit challenge, says industry consultant, Bob Cotton

Helped by a weakened pound, Britain’s hospitality industry is surviving the initial Brexit negotiations remarkably well. Hotel occupancy in London is at near record levels (83 per cent in 2017 and forecast to be the same for this year).  In the provinces, also, occupancy is holding up well.

True, some restaurant groups are feeling the backlash of unwise over-expansion and the whole industry is facing a regime of rising costs. The reduction of available migrant workers, some of whom already appear to be increasingly reluctant to work in the UK, is also causing concern. The recently agreed 21-month transition period will give employers more time to prepare for the eventual cutback in migrant numbers, but increasing pressure on the payroll, as employers seek to employ workers from a smaller pool, will be inevitable.

So what can the industry do?
Most crucially, it has to maintain standards – and then to improve them to meet rising customer demand.

Britain has built up a reputation as a great tourist nation with some of the finest leisure and business attractions in the world; it also offers great gastronomy and a hospitality industry that has invested billions of pounds in new hotels at all levels – 8,000 more rooms in London this year alone.

Coming on top of similar annual increases in hotel stock in the last 15 years, there are many who suggest that London is teetering on over-supply, leading to significant falls in occupancy and yield. So, with this headlong expansion, old challenges re-appear.

Hospitality is not a first choice career and the industry’s reliance on migrant labour– in London it represents some 60 per cent all hospitality workers – is well known. We need to recruit more home grown talent but that’s difficult, despite the industry’s efforts. Hospitality’s reputation as a poor employer, offering unsocial hours and low or unfair pay systems, is impossible to cast aside. Many parents are reluctant to encourage their children into the industry either in a job or as a lifelong career.

Overriding this, every hospitality industry of every other tourist country in the world is improving. Fabulous hotels are being built in all corners of the world which set new standards of comfort and luxury; other developments exploit valuable niche competitive markets.

We have to compete. Britain is doing so, and successfully, so far. The number of overseas visitors to the UK is at record levels, but many are taking advantage of the fall in the value of the sterling which makes this country relatively inexpensive. Will they still come if and when sterling rises to pre-referendum levels?

There’s a feeling abroad that because the industry has weathered the Brexit storm well so far, that it will slide gracefully into the sunlit uplands of post-Brexit Britain without any problem.   But the competition is sharp, the dangers are real.  People visiting the UK – and the many Britons who decide to vacation overseas – base their decision on whether or not they receive value for money.

Improving industry standards, in order to provide ever increasing value, must remain the key challenge facing all hospitality employers today, whether they realise it or not.

The value of clean cannot be underestimated. A clean hotel or restaurant will pay dividends. Quality products that get the job done efficiently, the first time are key to customer satisfaction. P&G Professional products improve employee efficiency, and the bottom line by preventing chemical waste.

In order to improve industry standards businesses have to provide more effective training programmes, introduce better conditions of work, engage more highly motivated management, and implement proven and efficient working methods, in conjunction with using high quality materials.

Training employees and demonstrating their value in the business will help reduce turnover and improve staff loyalty. What’s more, it will improve productivity through efficient process. But this efficiency will not be achieved without easy to use, effective and efficient products, like those from P&G Professional. With colour coded systems and images, correct usage is guaranteed.

Nothing short of a cycle of constant improvement will be required if Britain is to really enjoy that post Brexit paradise.  It’s a tough call and it’s doubtful, that this is yet widely recognized.   It needs to be.

Chairmen and boards of directors, trade associations and professional bodies, managers, and, not least, manufacturers and suppliers – have a key part to play: to combine all their resources in order to meet the post Brexit challenges. Leadership of the industry here is critical. Do we have it? Not yet. But we will need it.

Bob Cotton has spent his career in the hospitality industry and was chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, 2000-2010.  He is a member of Procter & Gamble Professional’s expert advisory council.

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