The hospitality industry has been badly hit by the twin problems of Covid and Brexit. Alasdair Crosby talked to Simon Soar, the executive officer of the Jersey Hospitality Association
‘If you need to shout at someone, and shouting is going to make you feel better, pick up the phone and shout at me.’
Simon Soar, the chief executive officer of the Jersey Hospitality Association, was discussing his role through three eventful years – this present year the most eventful of all three, of course.
We were sitting over a cup of coffee in a café – a pastime which at the time of writing, seems just a nostalgic memory of (slightly) better days – it was at least two weeks ago and the fear factor of coronaphobia was marginally less acute than it is at present.
He continued: ‘If I can do anything to support my members and to ease the pressures off them, regular communication with them is the very least I should be doing. If they shout at me, I am not going to take it personally. I am a big boy. People do shout – it’s not just anger, it’s more of a range of emotions. I can only tell them: “If you are concerned, talk to me. I will either have the answer or I can get the answer.” It is part of my role to provide reassurance – that’s what we are here for – it’s an important part of what we do, to make members feel they have a voice, that they have representation, and that they are not in this alone.’
‘Navigating’ Covid has been the biggest challenge of the JHA: ‘There is fear – as well as virus – around members. Your business is closed and you don’t know when you will be able to re-open. Do you have to put more measures in place? Are you going to get support? How are you going to pay your staff? How are you going to pay your rent? These are massive pressures. I’m concerned for the mental health of many in our industry, and rightly so.
‘But the measures that I have seen taken by senior members of the industry to safeguard their businesses have been superlative.’
The two major concerns of the industry are Covid and Brexit – the ugly sisters of modern times.
Was there life after Covid for this much suffering industry, he was asked?
‘Yes, there is, depending on how we weather the current storms, which are quite turbulent by now. If we can, there is huge potential for Jersey next year. We are seeing an increase in interest in Jersey by tour operators – much higher interest than anticipated. We’re closer to the UK, with less travel involved in reaching here – and it is an English- speaking destination. Our testing regime is superlative – last week (in December) we tested 10 per cent of the Island in just one week. This will all count next year.’
He added that he foresaw that the holiday season would be more spread out in the future, with more holiday makers coming to the Island in the shoulder months, when there are fewer other tourists and more room and space to enjoy the Island.
Brexit has been a long-term problem, already causing concern before Covid arrived to usurp its place in the daily headlines… now Brexit and Covid are sharing the headlines equally. And those who have kept their heads in the sand about Brexit are liable to be in for a bit of a shock over the next few weeks, especially when it is realised that EU staff will no longer have the automatic right of entry to Jersey that they had in the past.
‘This year, we have already lost 1,700 staff. We will be able to get some from the UK; other nationalities will have to apply for visas or for work permits lasting only nine months. We have had superb staff coming in from around the world – especially superbly trained staff from Kenya. We will have to see how this is going to change this in 2021. It’s going to be a very difficult couple of years ahead.’
However, a benefit to Jersey from Brexit is that young staff wanting to improve their English language skills post Brexit would not, as has been dine up to now, be able to do so in the UK. So lots of driven young professionals might be coming to Jersey instead – and we could be seeing lots of very high-quality young catering staff in the Island next year.
In the short-term, he is looking forward to a relaxation of the Covid regulations: ‘When restaurants re-open, my wife and I are going out for dinner. I don’t care where – breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner – we’ll do it all in one day! We have incredible venues in the Island and goodness, how they deserve all our support!’