Lifting lockdowns, innovating against COVID and staycation trends

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Business Line looks at why ending lockdown in the UK may not save some businesses; a Dubai-based initiative to help innovators get their COVID-fighting technologies to market; and how an unexpected eco-staycation trend in Italy could provide a welcome boost to local business.

The UK has suffered one of the highest death tolls per capita as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the country gradually emerges from a 3 month lockdown many businesses don’t see how they can recover with social distancing in place – even in the once beating heart of London’s restaurant and bar scene, Soho. News of the easing of the UK lockdown was widely welcomed by some lockdown-weary sections of the British public but for many it remains a cause for worry. Plenty of businesses, even well-established ones in the heart of London, are struggling to see how they will operate with social distancing rules in place.

“We would certainly have to increase the amount we charge per-guest because they’re going to be more measures in place: sanitation, disinfecting, disposable paper menus, masks for everybody. So, it’s gonna be a charge associated with observing the social distancing. So I have no idea, but it’s not going to be good,” said Victor Garvey, Owner of Sola restaurant.

Car-free streets

There could be an answer – a group of restaurants and other businesses are campaigning to have parts of Soho temporarily pedestrianised through the summer months.

“Without the pedestrianisation, most businesses won’t even bother to open, they may never open again. So we’re going to end up with ghost towns, boarded up buildings, no people wanting to have fun and we’re going to have to start again from scratch. If we bring the atmosphere back, several things will happen. Firstly, we’ll breathe life back into the area. Secondly, we’ll breathe life back into all the little individual businesses and give us hope,” insisted Mark Fuller, Founder of Sanctum Soho Hotel.

Despite the obvious challenges many businesses are keen to open their doors though critics of the UK government’s strategy have questioned the decision to allow bars and restaurants to open on a Saturday.

Chef Antony Worral Thompson said: “I think personally, the 4th July is a crazy day to do it, everything else had been done on a Monday. The 4th July is a Saturday when we know the world goes absolute mad and everyone wants to go out on a Saturday and we’re going to get whammed when really if it started on Monday, we could break in gently.”

Dubai drives COVID solutions

The Global Grad Show held in Dubai is an acceleration programme for university students across the globe to make their innovative ideas a business reality. Recently the not-for-profit organisation launched an initiative to gather some of the best ideas to help combat COVID-19 and get them onto the market.

“Our focus is the work of university students who are looking for solutions for social and environmental problems. So at the very beginning of the pandemic, we realised we had a very robust group of people whose work is to come up with solutions for complex challenges that humanity is facing,” said Tadeu Baldani Caravieri, the Managing Director of Global Grad Show.

On the jury deciding the winning products are large investment companies who can provide knowledge and funding needed to get these concepts to the market.

“I really, really was taken by the amount of creativity and innovation that these university students have from America to Mexico to Europe, to China to India, to the Middle East. When I joined A.R.M. Holding and I relook at our investment strategy, I immediately thought of having a fund to support these,” said Mohammed al Shehhi, the CEO of A.R.M Holding.

“We are trying as much as we can to be hands on with the startups. We try to help them with their market validation. We also tried to help them with the investment and the financials and also make sure that they are looking at all aspects of their business before launching it into the market,” added Omar al Sharif, Director of Partner Programmes, Wamda

The products included antiviral packaging, a homemade bleach-making device and a system called Foresight, which uses Artificial Intelligence to predict if intensive care patients are deteriorating.

“With regards to a pandemic, the aim is that in order for the model to be a good prediction system, it needs to learn from the data that’s available. And intensive care ICU has the largest available dataset. So if we have a data set of these patients or previous patients that suffered from a particular pandemic and we know exactly how that affects the physiological condition of the patient, then certainly that can be predicted in the future too,” explained Samyakh Tukra, Founder & CEO of Third Eye Intelligence Ltd.

At home in Tuscany

The travel and tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19, especially in Tuscany in the north of Italy. As the sector looks to re-establish itself, there is a glimmer of hope as more and more Italians are opting for hiking and ecotourism staycation trips.

“Luckily we spotted the growing trend of tourism and ecotourism. Our hope is that people will abandon the approach to mass tourism, even if COVID-19 imposes specific behaviours like everyone not being able to go to the same place or not gathering together, or maybe because isolation makes us realise that we can feel good even alone, we can feel better if we are not crammed or we feel better in the wild after having been home for 3 months,” says Andrea Brogi, Eco-touring Guide & Owner of Via Maestra.

It is hoped that the pandemic could bring some unexpected and welcome alternative choices for holidaymakers.

“We are shaping tourists who are aware, who respect the area, and who are helping to move away from the typical tourist attitude, even in Tuscany, so despite the bad time we are going through, we’re creating new opportunities in much more valuable clusters than before. That’s because we are dealing with aware tourists and people who want to play their part to improve things. This is not trivial, since this message has never been so loud,” insists Brogi.

For policymakers it could also be an opportunity to rethink how tourism is managed in the country.

Laura lodone, who is in charge of tourism at Confcommercio Arezzo said: “Let’s put it this way, in Italy tourism has always been treated separately from the main economy. Nobody has ever tried to manage it, we have no good examples of good management, so this could be the chance to rebalance the developing pattern of the cities even inside the biggest tourist areas, we must find a balance between the presence of tourists and residents and the quality of life in the cities.”

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