Unlike the economic damage done by recessions, the hospitality has had no control over its destiny during the pandemic, according to Bob Ivell, non-executive chairman at Mitchells & Butlers (M&B), and winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award at MCA’s Retailers’ Retailer Awards.

Throughout his 40-year career in the sector, which has included several major recessions, Ivell said he had never experienced anything like the upheaval cause by the pandemic.

And unlike the pandemic when businesses have been closed for a large part of the year, there is always “market share you can get” in an economic downturn, even if there are fewer customers with money to spend, he added.

“Even with recessions you are in control, to a degree, of your own destiny. The difference this time is that it’s been totally out of our control. We have been at the mercy of what the government decides and when it decides it,” said Ivell. ”That has clearly been very difficult.” 

He echoed the frustration felt by many in the sector that pubs and restaurants have been “slightly singled-out” as venues where people are more likely to get Covid-19, when the data shows this is unlikely to be the case.

Ivell believes M&B chief executive Phil Urban and his senior team have done a great job of keeping staff connected during the pandemic and looking after its people. The business has also been very focused on keeping costs down and making sure it’s in a financially strong position for the recovery phase.

While he is confident the sector will bounce back overall, the sector veteran believes there will be further casualties over the next 12 months. Once the furlough scheme ends, VAT rates return to normal and business rates kick back in, a more realistic picture is likely to emerge. “There are a lot of variables that I’m not sure are as visible as they will be once all of this starts to come out,” he added.

“The most important thing for all of us is to focus on getting our operations back up and running, doing what we do well and making people feel good.” 

A full interview with Bob Ivell will be published soon.