How the HORECA industry survived the coronavirus crisis

Interview with António Maia

“The HORECA channel has been tremendously hit by this pandemic: all restaurants, hotels and bars were closed in March. Most of the hotels are still closed with personnel in lay-off. Regarding restaurants, there are 2 types: small restaurants that may survive or not and medium restaurants that also adhered to lay-off program but are now struggling with the new regulation that only allows 50% occupation, closing at 11 pm.

Also, in the Lisbon region and in touristic areas, restaurants depend on tourists that simply disappeared and still didn’t return,” — António Maia, owner of TOPO chain of restaurants says.

Photo by Iryna Halushchenko

Tell us, please, how does the HORECA industry feel after the pandemic in Portugal?

There is great insecurity in the sector, many spaces think to close

The hotel and restaurant business lost more than others during the quarantine. Tell me, please, what measures did you have to take to stay afloat? How did you adapt to the situation?

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We shut down temporarily during the state of emergency. We put employees on lay-off. Reducing all costs.

We have already opened, but with the limitations imposed by the government, we try to limit the operation to a minimum of employees and with reduced costs.

How did the Portuguese government support hoteliers and restauranteurs during the global closures?

The Portuguese government has announced the following measures to all Portuguese companies:

— Lay-off of employees with the government paying 66,6% of the employee cost (Decree Law 10G/2020, of 26 March).

— Social security exemption (Decree Law 10F/2020, of 26 March).

— Moratory for all financings with Portuguese Financial Institutions for a period of 6 months (principal and interests) (Decree Law 10J/2020, of 26 March), which is only available to borrowers that are not insolvent or in arrears in their payment obligations, among other conditions.

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In hotel industry, these measures were adopted. Concerning restaurants, only lay-off was, in the vast majority, adopted. The problem was that the government delayed the payment of the lay-off contributions which left restaurants without liquidity.

What do you think, how much time will it take for the industry as a whole to reach pre-crisis figures?

No one knows but hotels will only start operating when people start to travel again. On restaurants side, Portuguese people are returning slowly.

Photo by Iryna Halushchenko

What advice would you give yourself a few months ago before the world was covered with a coronavirus avalanche? What lessons have you learned from this situation?

Try to diversify demand and don’t depend exclusively on tourism…

Air traffic is slowly getting better, one after other European countries are opening borders, but the fear of a pandemic is still in the air. What do you think, how many percents of vacationers will decide to postpone summer vacations to safer times?

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A big part is planning holidays in their country traveling by car. On the one hand, people still fear airports, on the other hand, people have less money. What is happening is that people who did not lose the job are postponing travels to the end of the year, booking from September onwards, when pandemic should be more controlled and immunity will be higher.

How do you attract new visitors in the post quarantine conditions? It must be not so easy in the current situation.

We have to show that people are strictly following all measures (masks, disinfectants, etc.) and that all food is being confectioned in extremely controlled and high hygiene conditions.

What advice would you give to restaurateurs-beginners who want to build a new/buy ready-made HORECA business in Portugal?

To wait.

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