Once again, the UK has entered different systems of tiered coronavirus measures and the hospitality sector is being heavily impacted. In England in Tier 3 many bars, restaurants and hotels are closed, in Wales hospitality venues aren’t allowed to serve alcohol after 6pm and the measures in Scotland and Northern Ireland differ again.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the nation with the news of the Pfzier/BioNTech and GSK vaccine approval. Yet for the hospitality industry that light is a mere glimmer of hope, as the roll-out programme means that we could be looking well into the summer before there is any real return to a life that has a semblance of normality. NHS workers, those who have been shielding and most vulnerable in our society will be vaccinated first and it is more likely than not that the majority hospitality workers, because of the age demographics of those employed in the industry, will be one of the last groups to be vaccinated with the timings on this expected to be in the summer.

As a result, the reopening of hospitality will be gradual rather than sudden, with hotel, restaurant and bar businesses needing to continue to focus on implementing rigorous safety measures for another over the coming months. And while it is known that the vaccine has a high success rate infighting the symptoms of the virus, what isn’t known is whether it can stop vaccinated individuals from still spreading it – which could be a huge blow for the hospitality industry.

Now is not the time for hospitality to sit back, wait for the vaccine to do its job and hail the return of normality. The industry needs to put robust long-term safety practices in place.

So far, the industry has complied with government regulations, it has campaigned for better support. From a litany of conflicting advice, last minute notifications on reopening and lockdown dates, differing views on what compliance looks like, to a lack of communication throughout the pandemic, the support has often been confusing. Consumer trust in the government’s safety guidelines has faltered, which has put the industry in very real danger of collapse.

Consumer confidence has taken a huge hit and consumers are scared. Many have voted with their credit cards by choosing to stay home this year. The industry now needs to supercharge consumer confidence, and get people back through its doors and bums back on seats by grabbing the bull by the horns and demonstrating that cinemas, restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels are COVID-safe spaces, and be consistent in its approach. 

In the same way that a vaccine will inoculate against the virus, the hospitality industry needs to inoculate itself, future-proofing its customer experience as it waits for the vaccine to be rolled out and the fight against Covid-19 to get a grip. Creating the right conditions for customers to feel safe must be of paramount importance if the industry is to survive the next 6-12 months.

So what does a vaccine for the hospitality industry look like?

Ultimately, the hospitality industry needs to snatch the Covid safety mantle off the government and prove to consumers that it is able to self-regulate by putting in place a consistent set of measures that go beyond what the government is asking of them, by visibly reassuring the public that individual venues are fully compliant with an industry standard accreditation and allowing guests to feedback on their experience in a way that helps other potential punters to make informed choices about where they take their custom.

One such shot in the arm is the UK Safe to Trade Scheme. Launched by a crack team of industry heavyweights, the UK-wide scheme is an independently-verified COVID-19 safety standard and charter which distinguishes those establishments that are going the extra mile to ensure the safety of their guests. 

It is spearheaded by a governance board of top-ranking industry experts, including the former Head of Local Delivery at Food Standards Agency, the Head of Food Hygiene Department at Camden BRI, Former CEO of the Health and Safety Executive and Food Standards Agency, the Food and Drink Awards’ Scientist of the Year and the CEO of Shield Safety Group, and helps hospitality businesses to put the robust safety practices that consumers want to see in place. 

Experts at Safe to Trade work remotely with outlets to ensure that their premises and teams are not only COVID compliant but go beyond the guidelines in a credible and measured way. The aim is to help businesses get up and running fast in the new normal, while auditing performance and visibly reassuring customers, with an accreditation, that they comply.

Designed with the visibility of venue compliance in mind and as well as providing window stickers and certificates, the Safe to Trade Scheme provides local authorities with a searchable database of compliant members. Once a venue achieves approved status it is listed on the Public Register, and its ongoing performance is then monitored and kept up to date via anonymous feedback on the Safe to Trade website, from both customers and employees. This creates a unique feedback and ratings loop that encourages outlets to adjust and adapt their practices to ensure that their business stays compliant and continues to thrive.

Chair of the Safe to Trade Scheme’s governance board and the CEO of Shield Safety Group, Mark Flanagan, explains: “The hospitality industry has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the next six to 12 months businesses in the sector are going to have to continue to re-think how they engage with and reassure their loyal customers, if they are to quickly start to regain lost revenue. The vaccine is here but it will be a long time before the real benefits are felt within the hospitality industry.

“If consumer confidence is to be supercharged and customers are to come flooding back through the doors, in serious numbers, then the industry has to administer its own vaccine and demonstrate that venues are COVID-safe. Consumers are demanding more and the hospitality businesses that will win and be in the best position to benefit from the post-vaccine upturn, in the next phase of the  ‘new normal’, will be the ones that listen, respond and make the customer feel safe. The Safe to Trade Scheme has been developed to do just this.