As we fast approach the end of another year, unsurprisingly it has been harder than usual to pick out industry winners in arguably the toughest of trading environments, writes Mark Wingett.
With the speed of change in the marketplace, and the increased competition, choice, levels of service and innovation, I will always plumb for the consumer being the winner every year, whether they recognise that fact or not.
Of course it is easy to look at the sector’s wet-led operators, the likes of up-and-coming pub and bar groups, such as Arc Inspirations, The Alchemist, ETM Group, Coaching Inns Group, New World Trading Co and Brewhouse & Kitchen, as those leading performance. Their bigger, more established counterparts, Ei Group, Hawthorn Leisure, Fuller’s and Young’s, are also proving resilient, at least in comparison with their casual dining cousins.
It may seem perverse then for me to pick the overall hospitality sector as my winner of the year, but bear with me, there is some reasoning in what may seem like madness.
In February, the sector finally got what it has needed for a very long time, one unified trade body that provides an authoritative voice for over 700 companies, 65,000 venues in a sector that employs over three million people.
The timing of the formation of UKHospitality couldn’t have been more pressing or needed. The sector needed to be on the same footing as retail and other industries and the credence their respective trade bodies are held. Through the hard work of its council, members and, of course, its tireless chief executive Kate Nicholls, the Government can no longer use the excuse that there are too many voices pulling in different directions emanating from our industry.
Since its formation, UKHospitality has been relentless in making sure the sector’s agenda, issues and concerns has stayed front and centre and not pushed to the sidings, as has been seen in previous years. Whether that is working out a post-Brexit future for the sector, or highlighting the crucial role hospitality plays in shaping the new kind of UK high street.
UKH recently hosted its inaugural Hospitality Day in Parliament, where members lobbied their MPs and reminded them of the valuable contribution the sector makes to UK society. It also served as an opportunity to highlight the findings from its Workforce Commission 2030 report, which set out nine recommendations aimed at boosting employment and retention across the sector, including crucially mapping a path to a post-Brexit hospitality workforce.
As Nicholls said: “If acted upon these will enable us to provide even greater investment, and provide more jobs, in communities across the UK. Implementing the recommendations will allow us to more effectively provide careers and opportunities, particularly for harder-to-place workers, and help the Government hit its apprenticeship target. With political and economic instability in the aftermath of Brexit, this is too good an opportunity for the Government to miss.” Indeed.
Now of course there is a still a long way to go, and costs are still too much of a heavy burden for businesses, but a significant step was taken earlier this year to ensure the sector can win in the long term, more than its loses.
As part of Hospitality Day, operators and politicians alike listened to an encouraging speech from Michael Ellis, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, which showed he clearly understood the multitude of issues the sector was facing. Let’s hope some positive action follows the warm words.
Mark Wingett is consulting editor to MCA, the business insight journal, newsfeed and research house that specialises in the UK eating and drinking-out market.