Industry Outlook: So What Now?

    By John Longstreet, PRLA President & CEO

    First and foremost, I hope that this message finds you and your families healthy. It seems like the new preferred closing for email messages is “Stay well.” Just one of the myriads of unusual outcomes of COVID-19.

    COVID-19. There is no basis of comparison, no history, and no textbook to predict how this pandemic plays out. In the two months since the outbreak began in the United States, the knowledge base and the resulting rules are literally being written as we go. To paraphrase Sen. Pat Toomey from his recent town hall conference call, “It’s like we’re flying at 35,000 feet and still designing the plane.”

    This column was originally going to project how the hospitality industry looks “after COVID-19.” I’ve been in the industry for a long time and thought I could draw on my experiences from two recessions and the tragedy of September 11, 2001. However, from an impact on the industry, none compare to our current situation. Fortunately, I was able to connect our readers with two experts, Mark Woodworth for lodging and John Hamburger for restaurants, who graciously agreed to contribute articles to this edition of Restaurant & Lodging Matters on that topic.

    Instead, I would like to take a minute to talk about PRLA and COVID-19. Immediately after the outbreak occurred, PRLA suspended all membership dues collections and made our resources and information available to all restaurants, hotels, and other industry friends regardless of membership in our organization. During this period where people counted on PRLA for information and resources for survival, we served everyone. We will continue to serve everyone throughout this crisis.

    As a side note, it is amazing to me the number of folks that took the time to write messages of gratitude, even when they were struggling to save their businesses and, often, their homes.

    In addition to helping save as many restaurants and hotels as possible, we’re working to ensure that PRLA survives the crisis. Like you, we’ve had to make sacrifices and hard decisions, such as letting several members of the team go and reduce expenses elsewhere. We do not intend to ask for dues from our members until they are back up and running, and when we do, we’ll roll out a restaurant and small hotel dues model respectful of the fact that revenue will likely be lagging for some time. We will work to keep all members engaged regardless of ability to pay.

    Popular blogger and leadership pundit Seth Godin recently said, “The pandemic demonstrated, among other things, that we all have access to each other digitally. That if you want to learn something, the chance is there. That internet connections can be powerful, and that leadership is priceless.” We’ve learned what our hospitality community needs and values during this pandemic, which we can add to the PRLA repertoire for the future.

    The PRLA communications team has provided up-to-date, critical information to the industry daily. We intend to continue doing that after the crisis ends. Our portal of ongoing resources and educational opportunities will carry on as well.

    And, perhaps more than ever before, the restaurant, hotel, and travel community have witnessed firsthand the importance of effective government affairs and the essential nature of organizations like PRLA.

    One other thing that the pandemic demonstrated is that, as a hospitality community, we are creative and resilient, and we are stronger together. •