Retail and Hospitality – Welcome Back!
For the Scottish retail and hospitality sector Monday 26th April has become a hallowed date. From today the easing of Coronavirus restrictions will see non-essential shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs finally re-open across Scotland.
Now we have somewhere to go to show off our new haircuts!
It will be with great relief that retail and hospitality rolls up the shutters and opens its doors. But much has changed and will continue to change.
The explosion of online sales over the last 12 months will now be subject to a correction as physical retail re-opens. What is not clear is just how much business will migrate back to physical stores while caution over Covid remains and consumer confidence is measured in negative numbers.
Social distancing (1m in instead of 2m in hospitality settings), mask wearing and rules around curfews and indoor service of alcohol remain. The public will file back into shops and restaurants but the look and feel will still be strange.
Vaccine certificates / passports remain at the conceptual stage. Their use in allowing access to hospitality venues is a controversial issue for all sorts of legal, ethical and practical reasons.
Covid testing kits are now widely available. Employees in the sector taking twice weekly tests as an additional risk management measure may become commonplace.
Business rates relief of 100% for retail and hospitality in Scotland has been extended to cover the year 2021/22. This much needed concession does not mask the need for a broader discussion around rates reform in the longer term.
Many retail and leisure occupiers have not been able to pay rent on their premises over the last 12 months. Landlords and tenants have endured uneasy compromises and forced stand offs around this issue. With so much strain on the sector, that position is not resolved overnight by businesses reopening for trade.
A careful and commercially sensible unwinding of the support network that has evolved over the last year now needs to be given priority to avoid a further crisis for the sector just as it begins the long journey back to health.
The Scottish Parliament elections are days away. I joined a virtual discussion led by the Scottish Retail Consortium last week reviewing the election manifesto pledges from the major parties that will impact retail.
After such a long period of closure quick wins that see the economy re-open with a bang may be the priority for the sector. The next Government will be expected to bring fresh support and unity for an industry that has little, if any, fat left on its bones.
Much to be considered. For today, let’s once again enjoy the privilege of shopping and eating out.
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