Dale J. Venturini
President/CEO, RI Hospitality Association
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the globe, cases are dropping in the United States and in other countries where vaccination rates are high. As we begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel, and approach a hopeful end to this public health crisis in our country, it seems to be a good time to reflect on the lessons that we have all learned over the course of the last year-and-a-half. For our industry, some of those lessons were learned the hard way, as restrictions and public health guidelines altered the way we had traditionally done business and forced our hotels, restaurants and other hospitality businesses to adapt in an effort to survive – unfortunately, some were not able to pivot and as a result, doors shuttered, jobs were lost and lives changed forever.
While hospitality continues to recover across the country, including in Rhode Island, some of the practices and operational procedures that were implemented during the pandemic will prove to be useful going into the future. Challenges such as the temporary shutdown of indoor dining, capacity limits and the enforcement of physical distancing were met with thoughtful, innovative practices that not only helped some businesses remain viable during the pandemic, but that also have the ability to contribute to the success of our industry going forward. From a consumer convenience standpoint, many great ideas have increased the profitability of businesses during the pandemic, from the allowance of alcohol to-go, to the increased prevalence of curbside takeout and delivery options, improved online ordering and reservation systems, the implementation of contactless services and more. To appeal to the average consumer's desire for an easy, convenient experience, whether dining at a restaurant, ordering takeout, or staying at a hotel, meeting our guests where they are (and where they are comfortable) will continue to be of great importance as we come out of the pandemic and as society adapts to a new way of life.
The biggest challenge currently facing the industry is the workforce shortage. Throughout the pandemic, we have learned that safety is a top priority for our employees. By continuing to utilize the best sanitary and safety measures in our establishments, we can reassure prospective and existing industry workers that they are as safe with us as they are anywhere else. Many industry workers also sought to hone their skills and improve their professional acumen throughout the pandemic, and so offering our employees opportunities for advancement and providing the resources necessary for an effective training experience will appeal to those individuals who are committed to a career in hospitality. The workforce is the backbone of the hospitality industry, and so if there is even one lesson to be learned from this disconcerting trend, it is that we are obligated to ensure that employment in our industry is safe, worthwhile and rewarding.
While things are looking up, and I certainly do not want to be an alarmist, there is no telling where we will be at this time next year. It is my hope that conditions continue to improve, our industry recovers to the best of its ability and our country returns to its pre-pandemic sense of normalcy. However, we cannot let our guard down; I urge our industry not to forget the lessons learned during the pandemic – they may be our lifeline should anything like this ever happen again.