Hotels like many businesses reliant on the visitor economy, have had a tough first half of 2020.
Todd Handy, General Manager of East Hotel knew they would be in for a bumpy ride, but even he underestimated the impact. “We didn’t shut down, and occupancy dropped very quickly. Originally, I thought it would be bad, but it was even worse than I had thought.”
But East Hotel soldiered on, keeping their staff front of mind. Job Keeper was implemented for all eligible staff, and priority of hours was given to those that were not eligible. East was selected as a hotel that would receive bookings from incoming repatriation flights for the mandatory 14 days of quarantine. “It was a really good experience; we were able to bring back some staff from stand down and pick back up on some catering duties. They were fantastic guests; we didn’t have any problems.” Todd said of the experience.
But while the hotel portion of the business saw a bit of a downturn, their Italian pizza restaurant, Agostinis went through a boom. “The takeaway and delivery side of the business was unbelievable. We had to move tables and chairs in the restaurant to make way for extra pizza boxes. We were selling 300 to 400 pizzas every night,” Todd said. Even though the numbers for the food have dipped a little since then, the restaurant is still busier than ever. “It has trailed off a little, but if the numbers continue to stay steady, that number is still double what it was pre COVID times.”
While their staff are not back to their pre-COVID hours, most that need the work are back. The hotel is even currently searching for home house keepers. Todd highlighted that all staff have been encouraged to be using the COVID Safe application, and to obtain the COVID training certificate for infection control.
Overall, Todd says signs are positive as Canberra starts to reopen. “Everything is so encouraging so far. Canberrans are showing they’re keen to go out, have a meal cooked for them and support local businesses,” Todd said. “We were even at full occupancy for a couple nights over the long weekends.”
Todd’s advice for other Canberran businesses in the industry is to look after each other, “We are a small town. It’s a small industry, we should be working together. This situation has shown how we can collaborate and work together. There can never be too much collaboration.”