By Brad Foster
Dr Jerry Schwartz, owner of 15 Australian hotels, is remaining as positive as he can about the impacts COVID-19 is having.
As many hoteliers are remaining coy about the impact COVID-19 is having on business, Dr Jerry Schwartz is happy to tell it like it is.
Like many of us he is nervous about the safety of everyone, and particularly the elderly who appear to be most vulnerable to the virus.
With one foot in the medical world and the other in hotel management he has a unique perspective on the situation.
He expected there to be a viral pandemic – “there are pandemics every 13 years or so” – but “I didn’t expect there to be one right now”.
“As a doctor I can be fairly clinical about it and compare it to other pandemics; whether it be the short-lived SARS or the Spanish Flu in 1918 that wiped out more people than died in the First World War.
“It isn’t, thankfully, as virulent as the Spanish Flu. What we do know is that it affects older people. My concern obviously is for my father-in-law who is 90 next month.
“From a business point of view we can see how it’s affected everything. The hospitality industry is such that we do suffer from unforeseen circumstances. We bounce back fairly quickly but every insult we get or natural disaster we have, does have an effect.
“The question of course is how quickly will we bounce back and how are we going to sustain the time until things get better? In other words, how bad are things going to get?”
That is, naturally, a major concern, however, Dr Schwartz is remaining positive.
“There is positivity, you’ve got to look at the positivity. You first have to look at how you’re addressing the problem. [Hotel] management companies are looking at ways to maximise our profit and minimise cost without losing staff. It’s very important to consider that we have to look after our own employees. If there is less demand for work then can you deploy them in other jobs? We can also ask people if they can decrease their hours but we can’t go putting people off. We’ve all go to live.
“So how do you deal with the immediate problems from firstly our employees’ view and secondly from a financial point of view? If you’re going to have less business then you have to have less costs.
Then you can look at the upsides. One upside is the ability to utilise the fact that there are going to be more empty rooms and to speed up refurbishing works. One of my hotels, Mercure Sydney, with 517 rooms, was planned to undergo a major refurbishment.
“We were going to do that over a year-and-a-half so as not to upset guests staying there. Now that the occupancy is down we may be able to speed up that refurb so that when things do get back to normal it’s not going to affect the hotel as much.”
Could this be a wake-up call to Government?
In the midst of COVID-19 we asked Dr Schwartz whether this could be a wake-up call to the Australian Government about the value and importance of the business event sector?
“This is a reemphasis [of the importance of the hospitality and business event sector],” he said.
“They noticed with the fires at the end of last year how that affected the hospitality sector so much. There was a stimulus to kick-start the hospitality industry which has obviously now been postponed because there’s no point in kick-starting tourism when people are more concerned about wanting to stay at home.”
Are we now in the new normal?
“There is going to be a new normal,” Dr Schwartz said.
“It has already had such a major effect on tourism and the economy, and we don’t know how long it’s going to go on for, and the time it’s going to take to get over it. Whether it be China as a superpower, the whole financial situation, certainly there’s going to be a new normal. I think more focus on hygiene will be the new normal.”
“It… really shows how small the world is. Something happens in Wuhan in China and it affects the whole world.”