Leaders' Lunch - "An industry of passion that gives so much to the Island" (JEP - 3 November 2021)

IoD Jersey’s annual Leaders’ Lunch is taking place on November 25th. It is an opportunity for former, current and future leaders of our Island, to help inform the debate ahead of next year’s elections.

All industry sectors are encouraged to get involved as we attempt to re-set following the pandemic and Brexit. Prior to the lunch, IoD Jersey is speaking to a range of industry experts to get their thoughts on the way ahead with constructive and actionable suggestions. This week, it’s the turn of hospitality, and Simon Soar, former head of the Hospitality Association, and now Head of Hospitality and Tourism at Jersey Business.

Q: Hospitality and tourism have obviously had a tough 18 months, and the continued problems for the industry, such as staffing, are well documented, but what do you see as the underlying issues in Jersey?

Simon: Fundamentally, a lot of visitor accommodation is asset rich and cash poor due to the cost of the last 18 months, and the visitor demographic has changed quite drastically. That’s why you’re seeing some hotels close as the buildings are sometimes just not fit for purpose anymore. The critical fact is this is a massive opportunity to look at our visitor offering as a whole. Undertake an island-wide product review. Are we where we should be? Is the offering right for the demographic? Are we providing what locals want? Are we providing value and that doesn’t mean cheap? are we offering a good selection of local produce? We have many unique Jersey assets, not just potatoes, dairy, lobsters, and oysters.

Q: There has been much said already about the issues in getting staff, but what are the solutions?

Simon: Those issues are global and not just local because the pandemic stopped transient labour and some people chose to exit the industry. However, we need to review the operational environment our industry provides. People do not want to work somewhere they don’t feel valued. They shouldn’t feel like they might have to give up their social lives or work 70 plus hours a week. They should have a work/life balance and be renumerated properly, with upskilling for career progression. Quite simply, we have to respect those who work for us and value people. Hospitality is a great flexible working environment

Q: It’s not just about staffing, what else do we need to review?

Simon: That operational review, should also include re-evaluating how we interact with guests, the hours we operate, our offering, is it profitable and the right thing? Is it the right use of our resources? The pandemic forced our industry to review procedures and so productivity has in many cases improved. However, we can’t now leave the market to sort itself out, that would be a huge, missed opportunity.

In my role at Jersey Business, we are looking at what is best practice. Is it right to continue supporting businesses that aren’t looking to the future and supporting staff? Those that pay minimum wage to staff in private rentals, and don’t pay overtime or invest in staff training? What is the product we require for visitors and locals? Those hospitality and tourism venues which have invested in their product and range, are thriving. That shows the opportunity we have and I think we can make our industry island wide of world class standard so that people want to come to the Island.

The average age of those coming over this year has dropped dramatically. They’ve been blown away by what Jersey offers, so now we need to make sure they keep coming post-pandemic. They spend shorter time on Island but spend more. That’s not a bad thing. Higher visitor turnover protects our connectivity better.

Yes, we will see a reduction to around 7,000 beds next year, that’s around two-thirds of where we were two years ago. Let’s ensure that the product we have left is appropriate, fit for purpose and geared towards providing the right experience. We used to be compared to places like Spain, our pricing doesn’t allow us to be comparable now, we’re closer to places like Monaco. So is our product offering aligned and comparable?

Q: So, who and what is going to make sure this change happens? Is it down to industry or Government?

Simon: Here at Jersey Business, which is an arms length organisation, we are doing a lot of that review work. However, I personally believe we should be saying to businesses, “If you’ve seen a drop in your guests, is your product aligned with where it should be?” We will help facilitate that work. We are in a position of having almost a blank canvas. As an industry, we should be dictating how our future looks, wiping the slate clean and creating a fantastic product.

Q. What would you say to Islanders and to those who are standing for election next year?

Simon: Don’t ever underestimate what hospitality and tourism does for the quality of life for this island. Do not think we provide nothing more than a low GVA (Gross Value Added). We underpin every social interaction. We underpin all transport on and off the island. We underpin the quality of life we enjoy. By neglecting the industry, the long-term impact could be devastating. If other industries want to attract good quality candidates, they won’t want to come here if there isn’t a good quality of life here.

I don’t think people will respect the industry until we respect our staff and value everything we are doing. By constantly thinking we have to drive prices down and do things cheaper we are devaluing our product and devaluating our staff skills and value to the industry. Having good value doesn’t mean you have to charge too little it means putting the right price on what you are offering. There are many examples of excellent business practise out there in the industry, and we can all learn from one another with this.

We are an industry of passion, and you can see businesses that have that passion pouring out of them. That is what we should be proud of and shouting about.

IoD Jersey’s Leaders’ Lunch is sponsored by HSBC, and takes place on Thursday 25th November at the Royal Yacht Hotel & Spa. Tickets can be purchased via Eventbrite. Further information on the IoDJersey website: https://www.IoD.je/news-and-events/events

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