The PR Show podcast: Hospitality preparing to ‘live with COVID-19’

The hospitality industry must be ready to ”live with coronavirus” for the foreseeable future, requiring new operating models and communications strategies, according to a food and drink comms expert.

Restaurants, including takeaways like this one in Whitechapel, must prepare to 'live with coronavirus'. (Photo: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)
Restaurants, including takeaways like this one in Whitechapel, must prepare to 'live with coronavirus'. (Photo: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

The UK hospitality industry faces a massive communications challenge once social distancing restrictions are relaxed.

When full-scale lockdown measures were introduced by the UK government on 23 March, hotels, restaurants, pubs and leisure venues were left “scrambling for survival”.

This involved comms pivoting towards delivery models and informing customers when businesses might reopen.

The lockdown has had a devastating impact on the sector. Industry trade body UK Hospitality predicts a third of the sector is at risk of closing down and one million jobs are at risk, particularly as ongoing social distancing restrictions mean business is unlikely to return to normal for some time.

Palm PR and Digital founding director Liam Keogh, who specialises in working with clients in hospitality, food and drink, told The PR Show the industry is preparing for the pandemic to have a medium-term, if not longer-term, effect.

“When the coronavirus first came and the lockdown was announced, a lot of the industry went into panic and didn’t necessarily know how to act… they were just scrambling for survival,” he said, adding that large parts of the industry went into this pandemic with negative growth in the first quarter.

“But now people are looking to the future and a situation where their businesses are going to have to live with coronavirus.

“The reality of it is that coronavirus is going to last for years and the hospitality industry is going to be the last industry that comes out of this,” Keogh said.

This means developing comms strategies that assume coronavirus will have an impact on “all of 2020 and at least the first half of 2021”.

Chef Marcus Oliveira prepares food for vulnerable families in Tower Hamlets at Bergen House restaurant, Newington Green. (Photo: Kate Green/Getty Images)

Keogh explained that hospitality businesses need to prepare for social distancing restrictions that could limit the number of people in a venue at any time, limiting footfall and leading restaurants to streamline menus and observe higher levels of safety precautions.

He said hospitality businesses will have a major communications challenge to redefine how they operate and the types of services they provide, as well as the uncertainty of not knowing if and when business can return to a pre-coronavirus world.

“Weathering the lockdown is not going to be the toughest part of this because of the amount of government support going in,” Keogh added.

“After that they are going to have to deal with a strange new dynamic in the way society is interacting.”

Listen to the full podcast below to find out more about hospitality communication tactics and the “three communications phases” during COVID-19, the importance of purpose and how the crisis has affected Palm.

The PR Show episode also features Rooster MD James Brooke, who discusses how the crisis has impacted travel and tourism.

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