Hotels group MD David Tracey hopes team spirit will be legacy of 2020
THIS year is unlikely to be remembered in a particularly positive light by most.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit Scotland’s hospitality sector hard, with the near four-month lockdown followed by a series of crippling trading restrictions, three-week central belt ‘circuit breaker’ shutdown and now a move to five levels of restrictions to be applied locally or nationally depending on the spread of the virus.
When SLTN caught up with Manorview Hotels & Leisure Group managing director David Tracey in mid-October, midway through the central belt shutdown and before the Scottish Government’s five-tier system was implemented, he described it as an “utterly challenging period”.
But his resolve to steer the eight-strong central belt hotels group, which was founded by Steve Graham in 2007, through the challenging conditions remains strong.
“It’s tough, really tough,” said David, who was appointed MD of the group last July as Steve moved to the role of chairman.
“We’ve just tried to stay positive and make the most of what has been a really difficult time.
“We’re all working really hard to find the best way through this together.
“It’s week to week at the moment but we’re staying focused on coming out the other side of this.”
That resolve has, of course, been tested several times since Manorview took the decision to close all of its venues on March 18 ahead of the official shutdown of bars, restaurants and hotels.
Having missed out on the Scottish Government’s main Coronavirus Business Support grants due to the hotels’ rateable values being above the £51,000 cap, and applications to the Scottish Government’s Hotel Recovery Programme fund proving unsuccessful, Manorview obtained a commercial loan from its bank, Barclays, which David said has provided “amazing support” for the group.
Manorview also utilised the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough); directors’ pay was cut; and the group worked hard to reduce its cost base.
The ‘stop-start’ restart and ongoing trading restrictions, including the limit of 20 people for weddings and continued closure of nightclubs (the group has two clubs), have brought a fresh set of challenges.
“Weddings are a big part of our business and the majority of those are postponed until we know a timeline,” said David.
“Most of them, 98%, have rebooked which is great. We are staying in constant communication with them but it is difficult when we don’t have a timeframe to work to.
“But we are fortunate in that we have that diversification in the business – accommodation, food and drink, leisure.
“We did a lot of work and invested a lot – about £100,000 – in COVID safety measures and training before we reopened.
“I’m really proud of what we did to make the teams and customers feel safe.
“In August we traded at 40% of our August 2019 figures and in September we did 50% of our September 2019 figures; that was good given that we didn’t have weddings or events. August had Eat Out to Help Out and we extended that ourselves in September so that got a bit of momentum, but it was difficult then because we got in to October and had to close.
“It does feel like the trade is collateral. I think the Scottish Government started off quite well but then it got to the music ban, then the 10pm curfew and it was all off kilter with a common sense approach.
“We all operate licensed premises so we understand our responsibilities.
“We have adapted; this industry is very nimble. And I think that’s the frustration in the industry – we’ve all adapted and invested in safety measures but it wasn’t enough.
“I think fatigue is now an issue for the industry.
“I’m determined not to let that happen at Manorview.”
Despite the challenging times, team spirit is said to have remained high throughout.
The teams undertook a raft of charity fundraising activities throughout lockdown, as well as walking a virtual West Highland Way during the central belt shutdown last month – all of which David said has “helped keep the team spirit alive” among the 425-strong workforce while raising significant amounts for charity, including a £10,000 donation to Scottish licensed trade charity, The Ben.
Lockdown also saw the business undergo something of a reset as it looks to “come out of this stronger”.
And it is pressing ahead with its refurbishment of The Redhurst in Giffnock, south of Glasgow. It committed to the project last November, work began in February (stopping during lockdown) and should be completed early next year.
“We’ve a great business with great assets and we need to focus on coming out of this and coming out stronger,” said David.
“The most difficult thing to manage is trying to lead the team without concrete plans.
“We need to lead our teams through the storm and that is difficult when you can’t really plan ahead but we’re all working really hard and trying to find the best way through this together.
“It’s a balance. We’re trying to do the right thing, trying to be as positive as we can and trying to keep everyone with us.
“We’ve got a great team that understand where we’re going. Culturally we’re the best we’ve ever been.
“And I think we’re a better business, a smarter business. We’re a different business – more efficient, more motivated.
“The team spirit is great, and I hope that’s the legacy of all of this, rather than the challenges of keeping the business afloat – which of course it’s been about; but I hope the legacy of it all is the team spirit and how we grew.”