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  • Covid-19 & Brexit: Designing a common sense approach to moving forward

    Brexit and Covid-19 FoH panel discussion
    730 565 Hamish Kilburn
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    Covid-19 & Brexit: Designing a common sense approach to moving forward

    Exclusive: As the Festival of Hospitality gained momentum, editor Hamish Kilburn sat in the audience of what was one of the most honest and open panel discussions of the year, moderated by procurement expert Kerri Lewis which explored how the hotel design and hotel development sectors of the industry can recover and accelerate into unchartered territory…

    Brexit and Covid-19 FoH panel discussion

    There’s been a plethora of buzzwords and phrases that have emerged since the pandemic arrived uninvited to the party – ‘experience’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘lockdown’ being among them. The negative impact of the forced hibernation hospitality was widely documented in the frustrated social media posts of those who had a voice in the wider community. In the UK, the reality of three national lockdowns resulted in many casualties and, at the very least, every business was affected in some capacity.

    However, when hotel doors were firmly shut and designers’ sources of inspiration were limited to four walls or maybe a pickered fence, people started to adapt and conversations soon began to steer towards the direction of the future.

    Procurement specialist Kerri Lewis was among the wave of leaders and visionaries who took it upon themselves to start amplifying their own narrative. Lewis launched a webinar series that was aimed to find common sense solutions in design and hospitality.

    To continue this series – and evolve it into a real-life setting – Lewis partnered with the Festival of Hospitality to moderate a live panel discussion, which, on September 30 was sheltered at Nhow London, with its disruptive and quirky design scheme.

    “We wanted to help drive our future together,” she said when explaining what fuelled the initial conversations. “It’s an exciting time ahead, but we still face many challenges, including the obvious Brexit and Covid-19.

    Meet the panel:

     

    Kerri Lewis: Let’s address the elephant in the room. Grace how did Covid-19 affect the programme of launching your latest hotel project?

    GL: It [the hotel development] is a pretty broad picture. We first started getting interested in the project before first lockdown, and then things changed rather quickly. During March, as the country was put into the first lockdown, we started discussing the design scheme. Because of the restrictions, it felt like I was designing a hotel in my imaginary world.

    Covid-19 has affected us in so many ways, and I speak personally and professionally when I say that. You just couldn’t do what we have done without a huge dose of determination as well as conviction that you are doing the right thing. Part of that, in my opinion, is getting the right team in place who you can trust. There was a lot of the online communication, which, good or bad, was a new way to manage a project. It wasn’t perfect but it worked.

    On top of this, Brexit added to our issues in a major way. I remember vividly watching the news in the December 2020 and seeing all the lorries stacked up at an airport as they were not able to leave. “Oh my goodness, my mock up room is in one of those lorries,” I shouted. After the new regulations came into play, our strategy changed and we decided not to purchase in EU, and that’s when we started to source locally for this project. As a result, the process was easy to manage and that was key to success.

    KL: Oliver, talk to us about budget costs. What allowances and contingencies can people put in place so that they reduce the amount of surprises they face?

    OL: It’s so difficult. If you look at last 6 months, you will realise how much things are changing. Right now, returns don’t look great but costs are increasing. My advice would be for people to factor in inflation. If costs go up too high and too quickly, projects will grind to a halt, and then costs may come down. I know it’s cliché, but it really is the perfect storm.

    Find out costs and then ask whether it is viable. Take practical steps. Work beyond contractors, and try to where you can speak to the supply chain. Ask where the opportunities are, both regionally and globally.

    KL: Will, has Covid-19 changed the way people invest?

    WT: The most noticeable evolution are trends around consumer holidays. Some of these changes, though, are short term. How many more summers will people realistically want to spend in the UK? You need to look beyond this to really see what’s going to happen in the long term. We don’t expect air travel to pick up to where it was but it will change. Hospitality in the UK will look rosey in some areas but others not so much. Don’t be short term when investing.

    Oliver is right, Brexit and Covid-19 have created the perfect storm. Tomorrow 12 per cent, march 20 per cent. Seismic shift when it comes to training. There is going to be wage inflation in the sector.

    KL: Nick, how do cost issues affect design and FF&E?

    NK: Brexit and covid have accelerated trends. Lockdown has forced us to confront those issues. Generational, for a lot of people appetites will change. In hotels, co-working spaces is very much a demand. Perhaps they want to extend a long weekend into the working week, so hotels need to be equipped for this.

    Grace, expansion… has the current climate changed the way you want to move forward?

    GL: The idea is… waterside hotels, actually it has been very interesting to discover similarities of British coastal hotels and the ones across the channel.

    It’s changed a lot even in the last month. We seem to be springing back to where we were before. There is more of a consideration now to space and outdoor space. Those are important factors. In terms of design, I don’t see much different but it is a questions of interpreting of what a resort is like. To be able to provide those spaces but not in a formal way. Leisure and work.

    NK: We are looking at how we can extend the F&B areas into the outside areas. Keeping the cohesive design narrative but also with seasons – blending them into one. Spa component comes into this.

    KL: Where geographically will benefit/flourish from recent cultural shifts?

    WT: Popular places pre-pandemic, they need breathing new life back into the destination.

    KL: Positive thinking. What has changed for the good and why?

    GL: I have learned to work differently. When you are on zoom calls etc… you learn to live with it and adapt.

    WT: all we have seen is a big acceleration of trends (for the better) that had already started. Lack of air travel, personalisation.

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    Main image credit: Unsplash

    Hamish Kilburn / 31.10.2021

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