'Very challenging': Ilford businesses still struggling months after return
- Credit: Best Western Hotel
Months after the easing of lockdown restrictions in the UK, hospitality businesses in Redbridge are struggling.
Issues with both footfall and staffing mean business remains tough for hospitality – one of the sectors hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Best Western hotel in Ilford town centre only fully re-opened around six months ago, but according to hotel manager Ikram Wahid, it has been "very challenging getting tourists and customers in”.
Before lockdown, the hotel had relied on tourists coming from Europe – who view the area as a reasonably-priced place from which to travel into central London – but Ikram says that “all of that has stopped”.
The hotel has tried to diversify income revenue streams through its restaurant and by hiring out its hall, but the sustained absence of tourists remains a problem.
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He said his business was also finding recruitment difficult, with “hardly any people” applying for job vacancies, and added that business costs had risen due to supply chain issues and subsequent shortages of essential products.
“If this continues, it’s going to get harder and harder, but we are positive, we are optimistic,” he said.
One reason to be positive is the opening of a Crossrail station in Ilford, offering a direct link between Heathrow Airport and the hotel once the tourism industry gets back into full flow.
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He also predicted that a return of major events in the Stratford Olympic Park could boost the local economy and help the business.
Redbridge Council could assist by continuing to improve and beautify the area around York Road to make it more appealing to visitors, he suggested, while central government could help by maintaining the reduced rate of VAT.
Nagarjuna Mangalagiri, general manager at O'Neill's pub in High Road, Ilford, said it too was “struggling” nearly four months after re-opening on May 17.
The pub was hard hit by the pandemic, only opening for a short time in early autumn 2020.
Disappointing food sales during that period meant they had to lay off kitchen staff, forcing them to rely on wet sales alone.
Nagarjuna said the business was around 50 per cent down overall, and even sales of alcohol were “not quite what we used to do previously”.
He said the return to service had been “quite a challenge”, and he was letting customers eat takeaway food from elsewhere in the pub to avoid losing their custom.