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The real cost of SA’s short-lived lockdown to small business

Last Wednesday afternoon, SA Premier Steven Marshall announced an extreme six-day lockdown of the state from midnight, effectively giving businesses less than twelve hours to shutdown.

For hospitality, this meant getting rid of a lot of produce, cancelling functions, and standing down staff for the next week. Two days later, the Premier shocked the country by announcing that the lockdown would be lifted early after the contact tracing team had been misled by one of the catalyst cases for the lockdown.

In total, the lockdown lasted three days instead of six, with businesses – including hospitality – allowed to reopen from midnight on Saturday. However new restrictions were implemented, with a reversion to a one per 4sqm density rather than 2sqm, and a venue cap of 100 people.

Having spoken to Australian Hotelier when the lockdown was first announced, Anna Hurley, GM of Marion Hotel, spoke to us once more at the end of what had been a chaotic week.

The lockdown had placed a real cost on the venue, with roughly $20,000 worth of food having to be thrown out or given away when the lockdown was announced. At the Port Lincoln Hotel – another Hurley Hotel Group venue – more than $100,000 worth of accommodation bookings were lost.

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“It’s eye-watering. That was at one hotel in one week. Obviously the stock loss was huge as well. We threw out a lot of food, only to find out we were short of food by Friday, which is frustrating. Trying to get stock again with one day’s notice was very challenging,” stated Hurley.

But the costs to the revenues of the business do not stop with the end of the lockdown. With the new restrictions in place, Marion Hotel – particularly as a larger venue – is seeing its revenue opportunities severely curtailed, as well as its staffing abilities. The hotel has a normal licence capacity of 1800 people, and operates with a staff of 140. Both of those numbers are seeing a huge plummet under the new restrictions.

“I’ve personally turned away about 200 people worth of bookings over the phone for lunch yesterday alone. And in such a huge venue, that is just really frustrating.”

Prior to the lockdown, it was trading at a manageable capacity of just under a 1000 people under the 2sqm rule. But now with a cap of 100 people, the hotel is trading at only five per cent of its general capacity, which Hurley describes as “hugely debilitating”, particularly in terms of rostering.

“A significant portion of our casual workforce are not getting any hours, and then the casuals that we do still have on have had their hours really reduced, and its putting them under significant financial stress.”

While the Premier has indicated that these more severe restrictions could be lifted on 1 December, Hurley worries that – just like the early lifting of the lockdown – the change in restrictions could be announced early without any prior warning.

“If they were to take off the 100-person cap and leave us at one per 4sqm that means we go up to a cap of 500 people, which is great, but I need a few days notice to sort that out. I’m really concerned that they’ll decide to do that on Friday afternoon and I’m left to mop up the pieces for Saturday.

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“It’s a lot to deal with. You just can’t sleep because you can’t think about anything else, but you can’t plan either. It’s hugely stressful.”

Hurley hopes that the State Government will take this opportunity now to consult with the industry to find more logical ways to keep people safe, while also creating the least impact on business.

“We would love more opportunity to consult with Government on these regulations, because we feel like we could make it a lot more logical and workable without affecting the public health initiative. I really feel like if they would just talk to us a bit more, we can make it so that our employees can get more hours while still maintaining the overriding intention behind the regulation, which is to protect the South Australian community.”

By Vanessa Cavasinni, The Shout

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