As the country slowly eases itself out of the lockdown measures and life starts to move back towards something like normality, we’ve been talking to some of our rural clients who have reopened their doors to the public, to hear about their experiences and the key lessons they’ve learned.
The themes reported by those that have reopened their houses, gardens, shops, cafés, accommodation and other visitor attractions are relatively consistent, and provide sound advice to those that are yet to do so.
Whilst social distancing measures remain in place, albeit somewhat more relaxed, it’s impossible to get back to ‘normal’ just yet and expectations need to be realistic. A controlled, safe and sensible approach needs to be adopted.
Reviews from those first few visitors through the doors are crucial and could determine how successful your reopening is. It’s critical that the initial experience and feedback is positive.
In addition to the limitations placed on businesses by the continued social distancing measures, public confidence has taken a big hit, and it will take some time for that to be fully restored.
Information is everything, and will help to build that public confidence. The steps taken to ensure public safety and minimisation of risk should be clearly communicated around any premises, and on the business’ website, in addition to guidance on and appropriate signage to indicate what guests should and shouldn’t do to keep themselves and others safe.
To avoid disappointment on the day, what is and what isn’t open should also be clearly communicated. Is the full visitor experience available currently? That will be highly unlikely in most instances.
Dependent on the business, an advance booking system, with allocated timeslots, could be an excellent way to control numbers, as well as to gauge interest and ensure better planning. Such a system is also a clear indication to visitors that suitable steps are being taken and are in place to ensure their safety.
The reopening will be a learning experience for everyone and therefore any new systems implemented should be trialled on a limited basis initially. That ‘soft-opening’ will allow amendment and refinement before opening more widely.
Engagement of staff will be vital. Their duties and responsibilities are likely to have changed significantly to help deliver that safe visitor experience and they need to be comfortable with what they are now required to do. If they’re confident in their responsibilities and the precautions being taken by the business, and can demonstrate that confidence, that will inevitably transfer to guests.
Unsurprisingly, visitors’ main concerns tend to be around food and toilet facilities, where increased numbers of people tend to gather in closer proximity.
Any catering that it is possible to provide will undoubtedly be restricted, and outdoor seating may be required. Picnic areas could also be considered. Any catering and eating arrangements should be clearly advertised in advance, with advance notice for own food to be brought onto site, if appropriate. Increased numbers of litter bins should be considered, and these should be emptied and cleaned more regularly.
Procedures will need to be implemented to control numbers using toilet facilities at any one time. Increased hygiene measures being taken, such as regular cleaning and disinfection of facilities, should be clearly visible.
Assess the risk
Thorough risk assessments, across all areas of the business, will need to be undertaken. Those risk assessments should be recorded, along with the systems and measures implemented to address risk. Those measures should be tweaked and modified where necessary.
With regards business risk, it is strongly advised to speak to your insurer to ensure that they are satisfied you are doing everything that needs to be done. Of course, no one will know your business as well as you do, but they will have seen systems that have been successfully implemented elsewhere, and may be able to provide advice accordingly.
Other operational issues
In addition to issues around the visitor experience, reopening will inevitably mean additional business operational issues.
For example, and particularly for rural businesses in more remote areas, will it be possible to take payments by card, rather than cash to avoid social contact?
Visitors’ contact details will likely be needed to be taken, in case of any reported instances of Covid-19. GDPR compliance will need to be considered in this respect.
Careful thought will need to be given to staffing levels. Staffing will need to be sufficient to ensure quality of the visitor experience, and successful operation of and compliance with the additional required measures. However, consideration will need to be given to balancing staffing requirements with what will likely be a significant restriction on visitor capacity, and therefore reduced income to cover those staff costs.
Although it’s no longer possible to register any new entrants into the Coronavirus Job Retention (Furloughing) Scheme (CJRS), there is still time for those looking to rely on funding under either the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) or Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS). Those schemes were due to run for 6 months only initially, and are therefore due to close to new applications on 23 September and 4 November, respectively.
There are then, of course, the new measures announced in the Chancellor’s Summer Economic Statement.
Employers bringing staff back from furlough and retaining their services can benefit from the new Job Retention Bonus, in addition to the Kickstart and Apprenticeship Schemes, where they create new roles.
Those businesses operating in the hospitality and tourism sectors will also be able to take advantage of the six-month temporary reduction in VAT rate from 20% to 5% from 15 July and the Eat Out to Help Out discount.
There is certainly a lot to consider for the owners of businesses looking to reopen.
In the wise words of one client:
“Obviously, there will be a clear temptation to take a ‘dash for cash’ approach. However strong that temptation, it should be avoided in favour of a more controlled ‘slowly and safely’ approach.”
The very best of luck to all businesses reopening, and here’s hoping for a safe and controlled return to normality.