“Christ…!”. This was Prime Minister Johnson’s reported reaction to being informed over the weekend that 3.5 million jobs were at risk in the hospitality sector if Britain failed to reopen for the summer. In this moment, Johnson probably recognised a stark reality – the number of unemployed people within the hospitality sector could be double the entire economy’s unemployment figure for 2017. In the face of this kind of extreme economic strain, the media and public have intensified their scrutiny of the government’s plans to get people back to work and revive the economy.
The government has been constructing a complex summer cocktail with the hope of providing some optimism for the British public after months of doom and gloom under lockdown. This concoction is expected to include the relaxation of Sunday trading laws, the loosening of planning controls (to enable the reopening of pubs, cafes and restaurants), and the introduction of ‘air bridge’ agreements with low risk countries to allow for quarantine-free travel. They believe these, and various other measures, can jump-start the economy by encouraging residents and tourists to spend money in Britain again.
However, the reopening of industries and enabling of international travel can only be successful if the British public feel confident enough to engage with these services. Whilst companies are cautiously optimistic that their customer base will return, many of my own friends have shared how they would not trust eating or drinking at cafes, and wouldn’t dare think of boarding an aircraft for the rest of the year due to the perceived risk of infection. Therefore, businesses will need to think carefully about how they tackle these challenges over the coming months as they try to reengage demand for their services.
For brands, the following months are critical as many people are hurting financially and emotionally. Consumers and employees more than ever are demanding transparency and honesty – including updated safety protocols and financial probity – to feel comfortable trusting their favourite brands and their own safe return to work. Demonstrating core values at this critical time of enhanced scrutiny to avoid any sense of being opportunistic at the expense of customers and employees is critical.
Carefully navigating a complex and rapidly evolving media and political landscape has also become an increasingly important aspect of a business’ operations. Brands which fail to do so could find themselves caught out, and ultimately as surprised as the Prime Minister.