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RIHA Column: Regaining Consumer Confidence Amid Easing Restrictions

Dale J. Venturini, President and CEO of Rhode Island Hospitality Industry Association.

Dale J. Venturini, President and CEO of Rhode Island Hospitality Industry Association.

By Dale J. Venturini, President and CEO of Rhode Island Hospitality Industry Association

The driving force behind our industry’s profitability and success is tied directly to the support of consumers. Without a steady stream of guests who contribute to the bottom line, as well as through word of mouth and reviews, hotels, restaurants and other hospitality businesses are coming up short. Although restrictions on our industry are being eased in Rhode Island, hospitality businesses are still operating under some of the strictest public safety protocols of any business segment in the state.

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as operators and staff telling those who are torn about in-person dining or staying in a hotel that they are in good hands. We need to show them that they should feel secure while in our spaces. From adopting increased sanitary measures, to testing employees for COVID-19 and following social-distancing guidelines, the things we do now as an industry will determine the level of consumer confidence going forward.

Luckily, pent-up demand for restaurants remains strong despite the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association’s recent “State of the Restaurant Industry” report. Despite the increased popularity of takeout options, consumers are indicating that they crave in-restaurant dining experiences.

According to the report, nearly eight in 10 adult consumers say that their favorite restaurant items could never be duplicated at home and six in 10 claimed that restaurants are an essential part of their lifestyles, with a majority of adults across all generations saying that they are not eating at restaurants as often as they would like.

Similarly, a recent American Hotel & Lodging Association survey found that 56% of American travelers are likely to travel for vacation in 2021, compared to just 36% last year. Since the onset of the pandemic, only 21% of survey respondents reported having traveled for leisure and only 28% had patronized a lodging accommodation.

However, while 34% of Americans say they are comfortable staying in a hotel right now, nearly half say their comfort is tied to vaccination in some way and more than half said that enhanced cleaning regimens will make them feel more comfortable staying in a hotel.

It is clear that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and as our industry continues to emerge from and manage imposed restrictions and protocols, the effort that we have been putting in for the better part of a year is that which will bring our customers back. By continuing to implement best practices in regard to cleanliness, social distancing and mask-wearing, we have the foundation to assure our customers that they are just as safe with us as they are anywhere.

As we begin to roll out employee COVID-19 testing throughout the state in the near future, we are providing the general public with another example of our commitment to their safety.

At this point, many of these practices have become second nature for us, and so I am hopeful that by holding on just a bit longer, these are the very tools that will return us to some semblance of normalcy sooner rather than later.

It has been a long, winding and painful road up to this point, and while we have yet to reach our final destination, we are inching closer to it.

We do understand the hesitations of the more skeptical consumers out there and we are more than happy to demonstrate how seriously we take their concerns by doing whatever is necessary to keep them and our staff safe and healthy.

A veteran of more than 25 years in the hospitality industry, Venturini is considered by many to be the voice of the industry in the state of Rhode Island. She has been instrumental in improving the industry’s educational and training programs in the state, as well as enhancing the bottom line of the business she represents. Venturini splits her time between the office and the State House, a constant presence for her membership.


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