Since March 2020, our lives have been turned on their heads by COVID-19.
The coronavirus pandemic is something that couldn’t have been predicted, and even those epidemiologists who had indicated the certainty of a new viral pandemic striking humanity at some point in the future could not have known when that would happen, what form it would take, or the level of impact and how that could affect everything we take for granted.
With the announcement of lockdown, many businesses were forced to close, and the economy has suffered a downturn in GDP, major borrowing costs related to the furlough scheme and other central government incentives, and increased unemployment. Coronavirus has had a devastating impact on a wide range of industries, although some have thrived in the new world ushered in by measures taken to stop the spread of the virus. With the enforced changes to our lifestyles, we’ve had to adapt, which has meant we have been more reliant than ever before on services such as online ordering and home deliveries of groceries and other essential household items.
In the remainder of this article, we explore how the global pandemic has affected various industries, and the impact to date.
When lockdown was announced, planes were grounded, travel plans were cancelled, and the whole of the travel and tourism sector was thrown into disarray. Even when many of the restrictions were eased and travel to some places was again permitted, the uncertainty of the current situation meant that many had lost the confidence to travel abroad and preferred to stay at home or opt for a staycation.
These circumstances have led to a significant negative impact on the travel and tourism industry. EasyJet has recently announced that it expects to lose up to £845 million this year due to the pandemic, stating that passenger numbers have more than halved due to planes being grounded in lockdown.
Lockdown also meant many of our favourite pubs, bars and restaurant have shut their doors for extended periods of time. Even on reopening and with the Governments Eat Out to Help Out Scheme that ran through the summer, social distancing rules meant that venues had to adapt their seating arrangements and run at a lower capacity, which in some cases was not financially viable.
Social distancing and the rules enforced on large gatherings has also meant that the on-location events industry has taken a huge hit. Festivals and sporting events, from the Glastonbury Music Festival and Wimbledon to the Tokyo Olympic Games, have had to be either postponed or cancelled, with huge knock-on effects for the many people employed directly by these large-scale events as well as for hotels and restaurants in their vicinity and other indirect employment. Everyone from the performers to the organisers and from the caterers to other nearby businesses has felt this impact.
The Arts sector welcomed a recent announcement that arts and cultural organisations would be able to benefit from a share of £257 million as part of the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund. The nature of this sector, in which audiences would gather at close quarters, has meant theatre shows and live performances could not take place safely with Covid-19.
Previously criticised for not supporting this sector, the government moved to try to ensure that as many as possible of these venues will still be around in a post-COVID world. Some familiar names on the list to receive funding in Bristol include the Old Vic, the SS Great Britain Trust and St Georges Bristol. There is a more detailed list of venues receiving support in Bristol here.
There’s no doubt that the hospitality and Arts sectors are struggling. It will take a combined effort to ensure that organisations in the Arts sector, whose activities serve to entertain and inspire us, can remain open and thrive once more.
Supporting online events and shows through ticket purchases will contribute to helping keep these industries alive. However until public events and working in city centre offices resume, the outlook for many local businesses that depend on these activities will be severely affected.
On the flip side of this, some industries have seen a significant increase in sales or demand for their services.
With many employees working from home from the moment we went into lockdown, and many of those now doing so again after a brief return to commuting during the summer, and likely continue to do so into the new year, our reliance on technology and more specifically communications technology has never been greater. Businesses that previously never had employees working from home now need to ensure that they can maintain productivity and that their teams can keep in contact with one another. This, coupled with the increase in online socialising to keep in touch with family and friends, has seen video-conferencing software soar in popularity. Zoom saw a 30-fold jump in use in April this year, and at its peak counted more than 300 million daily participants in virtual meetings.
Online retail has also benefitted immensely since February. With the shutting of many physical stores during the full lockdown, consumers had no alternative but to shop online. Although stores have now reopened, UK online retail sales in August 2020 were still 46.8% higher than at February’s pre-pandemic levels, suggesting that many people are still more comfortable shopping online than going to a physical store. This change in behaviour may be a long-lasting one, now that so many people have got used to online shopping as the default option.
A report by Waitrose found that ‘the number of consumers who do a weekly grocery shop online has doubled since the coronavirus lockdown, in a trend that is now “irreversible”‘, with 40% of people saying that they will shop online more now than they did previously.
Household goods stores have also seen an increase in sales, which were 9.9% higher in August than in February of this year, this rise coming mainly from the increased sales for home improvement items. With much more of their time now spent at home, consumers are looking to improve and update their living and working-from-home spaces, with considerable building work taking place to extend and enhance that space.
As we head into another lockdown, with the prospect of further local lockdowns to follow and such an unpredictable year ahead, it is difficult to make any definite forecast for what comes next for British industry and retail, as well as for individuals.
One positive thing we have seen this year (2020) is the way communities have come together and supported each other through times of hardship. There is debate over whether our behaviours and habits will be changed permanently, but our reliance upon certain social habits and comforts we had taken for granted has certainly been jolted, as we continue to adapt to the new circumstances that we now face.
We hope that adapting to COVID-19 does not mean the end of the industries that are facing particular difficulty, because the post-pandemic world will be a much poorer place if Arts, Hospitality and small businesses in general are culled by the measures put in place to protect public health.
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