Putting our relationships under the stress test
Putting our relationships under the stress test
27 APRIL 2020 7:35 AM

In the space of a few short weeks, tried-and-tested relationships have broken up in abject divorces or temporary splits. Hearts have been broken, friends separated, trust battered. When COVID-19 is over, will love blossom again?

More so than most industries, the hotel industry essentially is one big relationship.

Hospitality is at the heart of the industry, but at the moment being hospitable is difficult, if not near impossible.

This week I turn agony uncle.

The relationship between hotelier and guest is falling out of love. COVID-19 being a once-in-six-generations disaster will profoundly influence all relationships, I believe, but therein lies opportunities to make the entire landscape better.

Humans must think like that, or back it is into the waves, crawling back along the sands to take our original places in the oozy mud, or something like that.

Here are some relationships likely to change.

Between guests and hotels
When guests return it might be the equivalent of a blind date—all nerves and disappointment. Cleanliness will be at the top of everyone’s mind. Being asked to touch things from key cards to cutlery will form immediate questions and that will all come after guests’ analyses of their discernible income and spending patterns being adversely affected by this whole saga.

Between government and business and the electorate
Government has become far more involved in our daily lives. In the U.S., there has been backlash against some states for what voters perceive as over-the-top regulations. In the U.K., the market-oriented Conservative Party is in power but is following what might be opposition Labour Party policy and injecting massive amounts of cash into the economy, usually an anathema to it. Of course, all governments are doing that, but it will be fascinating to see how this relationship changes going forward and what it means to business and life.

Between the West and China
This relationship might have been for the last two decades always a little prickly, but it might now just go through a longer split. There already is a notion out there that China owes the world a great deal in recompense and apology. One hotel in Italy, the L’Hotel de la Poste in Cortina, has sued China for financial losses due to COVID-19, and more, I believe, can be expected. Western travelers might push back, too, which will create a tit-for-tat scenario. China enjoys huge domestic hotel business, so hotels there will do well again, but what this notion might mean for investment awaits to be seen.

Between the electorate and debt
The massive stimulus packages governments have put in place eventually will see the chickens come home to roost. Businesses receiving loans will have to pay them back. Yes, there will be or should be processes to make this pain workable in terms of sustainability, but all prognoses suggest a recession is coming, and that might be hard for many to contemplate following months of anxiety over the virus itself. In other words, that likely will mean less discernible income, more competition for wallet and more hotels going under.

Between corporate and hotels
The shoulder season is looking like it will suffer from very poor posture. With everyone increasingly getting used to meeting online—and the number of virtual happy hours already decreasing—many corporates will think carefully about meeting in ballrooms and the like, because they have seen meeting online can be done, although potentially with less fun and financial reward.

Between banks and business
I have only seen a few noises in this direction, and very little reaching out by bank bosses, but this is one relationship that must change. The Great Recession was a financial disaster that seeped into the economy and was rectified by taxpayers, who felt the brunt. The COVID-19 disaster is an economic catastrophe that seeped into the economy, where the taxpayers yet again are left feeling the brunt. Does logic suggest banks should be the ones now to bail out the system? I am certainly not sure economists would say this is how things work, but it would not surprise me if tension between all sides increases here, too.

Between travel and climate change
The fragility of the world in terms of COVID-19 has direct parallels with concerns over climate change and the environment, and this will only increase. Hoteliers are doing excellent things in this regard, mostly, but this may well be the relationship that changes more than most. Milan, the first Italian and Western city to have been smacked around by COVID-19, already has plans in place to be a less-polluting city when all of this over.

Then again, maybe we all have short memories, and in a couple of months people on the streets of New York City will be buying “I survived the coronavirus” T-shirts, there’ll be a Biggest Barbecue Bake-off contest happening on some overcrowded beach somewhere and we’ll all be gathering shoulder to shoulder in pubs to watch series 17 of “Love Island” or the delayed European Champions League final.

After all, what came after the Spanish Influenza flu of 1918 was the Roaring Twenties.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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