Hospitality in Crisis (IV) – Jan Adamek, JAN Hospitality

Small Boutique hotels in Prague

Ever since its Velvet Revolution in 1989, the Czech Republic (or Czechoslovakia as it was then), and particularly Prague, has been a ‘must be’ place for most of the biggest hotel brands, and the number of major players has been increasing consistently for the last thirty years.  At the last count, there were nearly 50 ‘five star/five star luxury’ hotels in Prague alone, with more planned to open soon, whilst small hotels can be found on nearly every street of the upmarket residential areas of Prague 2, 3, 5 and 6 (after the Revolution, huge numbers of residential buildings were converted into hotels, partly to fulfil the demand, partly as that was where the money was (and the question now, is, of course, how many of those will soon be converted back!)).

Formerly Kempinski Hotel Hybernska Prague

Even during the years of the financial crisis (2008-2009) luxury hotel brands have continued to enter the Czech market – the Kempinski and Rocco Forte hotels being two that suffered the difficulties of opening around that time and, coincidentally, both of those have since left due to the buildings where they were housed being sold.  What was once the Kempinski is now a stand-alone boutique brand, whilst the Augustine, once Rocco Forte, is now a Sheraton (and Sheraton belongs to the Marriott).

With the hotel industry thriving over the past thirty years, many other companies related to the business have also succeeded; PR agencies specialising in hospitality (such as mine), event and wedding organisers, restaurants and others have all benefited from the continual rush of new hotel openings and expansions, so it is no surprise that the many people involved in the hospitality business are those that are suffering some of the most during the ongoing Covid pandemic in the Czech Republic.

In this, my fourth blog in the ‘hospitality in crisis’ series, I decided to talk to one of my partners in Synergy Hotel Consultants, Jan Adamek, and find out what he thinks the future holds for the hospitality industry in the Czech Republic (and elsewhere) after the last ten months of closing, opening, and closing again.  Jan has been working in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years, having trained and then worked as a General Manager (at the five star Hotel Jalta in central Prague) and then, more recently, starting his own agency, JAN Hospitality, which focuses on a whole range of consultancy services relating to the buying and selling of hotels.   He is, therefore, the ideal person to give an overview of what we can expect.

Hotel Jalta Prague

As a bit of background, I wondered how it was that Jan had given up his very good job as a hotel GM to go into the real estate side of the business and his answer was that he had always wanted to have his own company; somewhere where he can be creative and use the many ideas and experiences that he had garnered during his years as a GM and share them with other hoteliers and restaurant owners.  Since the Jalta itself is owned by an entrepreneur who has always had his eyes on expanding his own hotel business, it is no surprise that even during Jan’s work at the hotel, he was involved in hundreds of feasibility studies of existing hotels, either for potential buyers or for the banks and/or sellers too.  And today, as he says, there are not so many experts on the Czech market that have worked inside the business and are also able to work with projections, banks, and large-scale investors.  So began the idea of JAN Hospitality.

JAN Hospitality was established in 2010 and since then the agency has worked on many large-scale deals, whether for the buyer, seller or, in some cases, both.  What a lot of ‚non-hospitality people‘ don’t realise is that the buildings that house the major brand hotels (95% or so in the Czech Republic) are usually owned by someone other than the actual hotel operator, which makes the buying and selling of them a lot more complicated than when buying or selling regular buildings.  What often happens, therefore, is that JAN Hospitality will end up working for both sides of a deal – initially preparing the valuation for the building owners and then helping them to select the most suitable brand to operate the hotel itself, and then working together with everyone involved to ensure that the final deal works for all parties (whether that is a lease contract, management contract or something in between).   This is, of course, different when it comes to the smaller hotels, where the owner of the building may well be the operator of the hotel, although they, too, have their own issues.  

According to Jan Adamek, at the start of 2020 (ie pre-Covid), there were cca 22 4 or 5 star hotels being built/near to completion in the Czech Republic and 57 existing hotels under refurbishment/reconstruction.   I wondered whether those that were in the process of being built had continued (or will continue) to completion, or whether they may be sold as is, and Jan’s view is that they will probably be completed, but, of course, there may be some delay.  And as far as reconstruction works are concerned, whilst it looks as if some hotels have put the works on hold, others actually started their reconstruction works during the first lock down – in some ways, one could say that lockdown was a ‘good’ time’ to carry out such works, since usually the bigger hotels try to keep open (in order to satisfy their regular clients and keep their market share) during any reconstruction, and try to do it one floor at a time or similar.   The Intercontinental Hotel Prague (which is due to be operated as the Fairmont Golden Prague Hotel by Accor) started its complete reconstruction right at the start of the first lockdown, and so it continues, as did the Marriott, who had started before the pandemic, but continued throughout lockdown and up until completion (see my previous blog).

For smaller, owner-run hotels, the whole situation regarding reconstruction is always complicated, as it is much more difficult to close part of a relatively small building without inconveniencing the guests staying there, and to close-down completely is difficult – especially in a city like Prague, which is a tourist destination pretty much the whole year round (or was!).   However, whilst carrying out reconstruction work makes sense right now, smaller hotels may not have the financial means to do it and/or any bank may not be willing to offer a bank loan.   Plus, of course, the lack of construction workers in the Czech Republic generally, makes it even more complicated when there is a bigger demand for them but a much smaller workforce.  For that reason, just now there are a lot of small, boutique hotels looking very sad and unlikely to survive the next few months.

Cesky Krumlov

Despite a good summer, when the Czech Republic was operating pretty much as normal (except Prague, Český Krumlov and other destinations that rely on international tourists who did not appear), just now the Czech Republic is back in lockdown, so one has to wonder how much longer any of the hotels are going to be able to survive.  Presumably the big brands will eventually bounce back (Prague is always going to be a hugely popular tourist destination), but there are hundreds of small boutique hotels around Prague and outside in the country and I wondered what Jan thinks the future holds for them, and whether they are likely to survive or sell up? 

As far as the big brand operators are concerned, Jan agrees with me that they will definitely survive although some operators may change or move around.  But the owners of the buildings may well be in trouble, with reduced rents necessary and very little government support (plus hotel leases often include special clauses that require them to pay a percentage of their income to the owner – so no income, no percentage).   Jan expects that we will see many hotel buildings changing hands over the next 2-3 years.

So far as the outlook for the smaller hotels are concerned, especially outside Prague, Jan’s answer was quite surprising to me, since he expects that at least two third of them will be OK.  His feeling is that whilst hotels in Prague, Český Krumlov, Brno, Ostrava  may be suffering, there are other areas of the Czech Republic that have had bumper years – mountains and water destinations (e.g. Lipno lake) – since many Czechs have travelled around the Czech Republic a huge amount more than they would normally, taking breaks from the city in the countryside and their holiday this last summer and Christmas in the mountains.

Having said all of that, Jan’s general feeling is that once the Covid situation is under control and we move into the ‘new normal’, the whole hotel market in the Czech Republic will go through huge changes.   Far, though, from crashing and burning, it sounds as if it is going to get very interesting; I told Jan that I had read that one of the big Czech billionaires had put a huge amount of money to one side in readiness for buying hotels once things go back to normal and I asked him what he thought about that and whether it was a positive sign that those ‘in the know’ feel sure that the hotel business will bounce back.  Jan agreed that we should assume that soon there will be a lot of opportunities for those with money to buy a good hotel property in a great location.

I also asked him whether he was ready to take on anything, or whether he will be selective?  He responded that it is always important to understand why an owner wants to sell and then to prepare a market value report and be able to discuss with the owner the market selling price – especially now, when a lot of nice hotels are not having results good enough to be sold for their  best price – for those, he would recommend that they take 12-18 months with good management in place (and his team is able to propose the right managers), and then start the selling process once they are back on their feet, with better financial results.

Key in all of this is, of course, the future potential occupancy of an hotel, its average daily rate, and any other income and profit, as well as its location and the condition of the building.   Plus, in the present situation, it will be key to know which employees are still involved and working as they are a big part of what makes any hotel successful.

Finally, and with my marketing hat on, I asked Jan what he would be doing to survive right now, if he was a hotel manager, and how he would plan his strategy for the future.   Many of his answers, dare I say it, apply to all businesses, not just hotels.  His suggestions:

  • Digitalisation of everything possible
    • Putting a lot of effort into marketing, especially social networks – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.
    • Improving customer service and CRM (customer relationship management)
    • Re-thinking their target audience – for example, in the past, many of the hotels have focused on the US and Asian markets – and for the immediate future, more focus is going to have to be put on Europe
Formerly Rocco Forte Hotels the Augustine

What Jan also mentioned is the importance of hotels making make sure that their offering and target audience match – i.e. how the hotel itself looks (the product), who the hotel is marketing its offer to (does the target audience match with the look of the hotel) and is that target audience actually the clientele that the hotel actually ‘wants’ to attract (there is no point in marketing to, say, the high-end luxury market, if the hotel doesn’t look very nice, or is super-modern and more likely to attract the younger and, in some cases, less affluent groups).    It all sounds obvious, but, as with so many things marketing, many campaigns go astray due to forgetting these three key points.

So that’s it; the coming months are going to be very interesting for the Czech hotel industry, and whilst we can expect that a lot of the smaller operators may sell up, there is obviously a lot of money out there waiting to grab any deals.   And the big guys; well, as I have said, we can expect them to bounce back pretty quickly – all may not be doom and gloom in the hospitality industry.

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Happy New Year?

I keep starting to write another blog and then I realise that each time I do, it turns into more of a ‘mad rant’ than anything else. But today I decided that the only way to get over it is to get everything off my chest (for any non-native English speakers reading this, that is not what it sounds like) and then move on – apologies in advance if it is all a bit much!

So, first, Brexit is done and all of us Brits, wherever we are, can revel in our new-found ‘sovereignty’ – something that, it seemed, was the only thing that really mattered to those that still supported it (clearly nothing else did, since no-one that I have read, spoken to or heard from has been able to name one other ‘good thing’ that has come out of Brexit). The terrible scenes of lorry drivers stuck in Dover during Christmas (God, how sad was that) are clearly going to be repeated as and when any European lorry driver can be persuaded to even attempt to drive there again, whilst each day (in between the horrific Covid news) we are hearing more and more examples of things that are not as they were in the UK (satellite UK TV failing in Spain, high levels of customs’ duty on Amazon products bought online and being exported from the UK, supermarkets running low on all products, nothing posted from the UK arriving at its destination, Tesco increasing the cost of everything in their UK stores by at least 10%, etc, etc, etc) – and it’s only January 7th!!! Unlike many on Twitter, I am not yet saying ‘Brexiteers, I hope you are happy with what you have done’ but I am finding it difficult. Sadly, and with no doubt, the next six months will be enough ‘punishment’.

Meantime, the situation in the UK with the virus (more than 50-60,000 new cases per day??? And 500-1,000+ deaths??) is terrifying and awful, and just when we think ‘it can’t get any worse’ it does. How much longer this government stays in power remains to be seen, but despite all of their chaos and corruption, it seems that there are still some people that think that BJ and ‘Hand-on-cock’ are doing ‘as good a job as is possible in the circumstances’. Can I just say here that that is complete and utter bollocks. The circumstances have been no different in other countries – here in Spain (and yes, I’m off again) which was so awful in the Spring, the situation is way different – everyone wears masks, everyone keeps their distance, the lockdowns are reasonable, and the figures, contrary to what the UK media would have us believe, are very low. We ourselves have been enjoying playing tennis and running on the beach, going to restaurants for lunch, shopping in the New Year sales, and generally living a relatively ‘normal life’, even though the virus is still out there, just as it is everywhere else. But it is all so well managed. If only the UK (and some other countries) looked around at how things were done elsewhere and followed them, perhaps things would be different…. but no, they obviously think they know best. Which leads me nicely to the Czech Republic.

Prague in winter time, view on snowy roofs with historical buildings.

It is hard to believe that in a population of just over 10 million, and that had so few cases earlier in the year, something like 8% have the virus, and the way it is going, the amount infected will probably hit a million fairly soon (and that’s just those that have been tested!). How??? Every time we call or email someone, we hear about another bad case (and, sadly, I now know five people that have died), and yet there have been several lockdowns, the one now, in particular, being pretty tough. I still wonder, a bit, about the weather (not so much whether the cold makes the virus worse, but more that here, where it has mostly been pretty warm this winter, everyone still lives a good part of their life outside, which is not so easy in the cold of the CR/UK), and also the pollution (the CR being known for its pretty bad pollution in the winter). But it sounds as if it is also the behaviour of so many people that still don’t believe that the virus is as bad as it clearly is – my old boss, C, told me about his neighbours inviting them for a Christmas drink and then asking if they will mind that the son is joining them and he is Covid positive…. my doctor told me about his son driving with a few friends to the mountains and the girl in the back seat ‘just mentioning’ that she has the virus, is that OK? – oh God… it’s enough to turn anyone to drink!

Except.. not me! Having eaten and drunk everything in sight during the lead-up to Christmas and the New Year (and I am not at all sure why, since we treated both those days pretty much the same as any other day), and managed to put on 3 kilos (no, life is not fair), I am now back to (a) a diet, (b) a full-on exercise regime and (c), most importantly, a dry January – six days done and dusted. Hah. And yes, it is extremely bloody boring and depressing, to the point that I am just accepting that every day is going to be grim, but it is not going to last forever. And generally behaving like a grumpy old bag.

I should just say, here, that I wrote all of the above last night, as I had originally planned to send it then, but just when I was thinking to wrap it up, boom… things got even more incredible with total madness kicking off in Washington.. and I am sure I don’t need to explain what that was! I don’t usually talk about the US as three countries to monitor is enough, plus I don’t know so much about the politics there… but for God’s sake… as someone wrote on FB this morning (yes, I’m still monitoring social media like a fiend), we all said on New Year’s Eve, ‘Thank God 2020 is over’, but now, having had a ‘free seven day trial’ of 2021, I think we would probably like to go back to it!

Here in our little sunny bubble, though, our Groundhog-day life continues in its own strange way. The virus remains relatively under control, although there has been a ‘big breakout’ of 17 cases of the ‘new variant’ in the town next to the border with Gibraltar (due, no doubt, to the many Brits that have been using the Gibraltar airport as a way to sneak into Spain without the relevant papers and tests. – the thing is, though, that here, where the cases are so low, a ‘big breakout’ is 17, and that causes the whole town to be locked down…. take note BJ).

We ourselves dressed up a bit on New Year’s Eve, and since then we have been doing all of our usual things (without the booze (me!), and not too much sun-bathing so far!), plus Jan has been busy with work and I have been doing quite a lot of ‘serious’ writing and looking at a few interesting projects. But, really, on the work front, it is pretty much one step forward, two steps back – but that’s how it is for most of us I guess. And, let’s face it, January is always pretty grim. Things for us now, though, might get a bit interesting, since to continue the crazy 2021 theme, we have just heard from a friend of mine that ‘severe snow storms’ are expected on the Costa del Sol. And since down here in Marbella, everything comes to a standstill if there is a bit of rain, I can’t imagine what will happen if the snow storms hit us – as if we needed any other sign that the whole world has gone completely bonkers…..

I will be back again soon… assuming we don’t get invaded by aliens, disappear under a massive snow drift, or disappear into a swimming pool full of nice red Rioja…. now there’s a thought…

Merry Christmas!

I keep meaning to write another blog, but then another day of near normality (here in Spain I mean) goes by and I realise that, even if I make a few things up, I still don’t have a lot to say! Must be the blogging version of ‘hitting the wall’, but hopefully that will soon change. Of course, I could talk about the fact that tomorrow is the deadline for the UK to ‘agree a deal’ with the EU (like that’s going to happen, and as if it will make much difference now, since the UK is fast going down the toilet) or the terrible Covid situation in both the UK and the CR, or how much I hate Boris Johnson and his merry men, but that would all be terribly repetitive and boring of me.

I also thought to talk about how lovely it is down here in Marbella, but then Jan, who loves to tell people every time he gets onto a Zoom call or similar (which is quite a lot at the moment) that he ‘has just come in from the pool’ or that he has to go ‘as we are going to the beach’ reminded me that these comments haven’t always gone down well (imagine my surprise!) so I thought maybe not. I would just say that it is kind of weird to be getting into the Christmas spirit when it is warm and sunny – it’s probably the only time of year that I actually like the cold and snow of Prague – this must be how it feels to be in Australia.

Actually, anyway, we are not really getting into the Christmas spirit that much since, as it is for everyone, it is a very different Christmas this year – for us, it will be just another day, as mentioned before (except for the presents, as also mentioned), no visit to the UK to see family and friends (the first Christmas ever that Jan won’t see his kids), almost as important for him, no carp (unless we can find it here, but I have to say I am not trying too hard!), and an even bigger battle than usual not to drink and eat too much. And then it will be the New Year and everyone will be holding their breath to see what that is going to bring.

For sure, we will all be hoping that the vaccine will be available and used for enough people that we will be able to get back to some normality (and for that to happen, that the vaccine stops those that have had it from still being able to catch the virus (asymptomatically) and give it to others that haven’t) and that enough people that haven’t had the vaccine learn to live with it still being out there (personally, I suspect that mask wearing and keeping our distance will continue for a good while yet).

For us Brits, I suppose that we are all hoping that Brexit won’t be the almighty disaster that it looks like being (and because I, personally, think it will be, that there will be a revolution that ensures that BJ and the others are tried for their sins, and that the new government gets us back into Europe as soon as feasibly possible) and that everyone else in Europe looks at what happened in the UK and supports the EU enough to ensure that there is never a Czexit, Spanxit or any other ‘xit’ for the next forty years. And for everyone else – that we all stay healthy, as wealthy as possible, and as wise as we have learned to be during these pasts nine months.

I’ll be back soon – blogger’s wall permitting. For now, wishing everyone that has read this blog, commented (all my best friends, as well as Roger (you know who you are, who I barely knew before, but who has unfailingly commented on Linkedin and spurred me on after each post!), bought the book, or hasn’t read it but liked the photos on Facebook, a lovely Christmas and let’s look forward to a much better New Year in 2021!

And finally; a nice and cheering, non-Christmas video to wrap up, and that encompasses a lot of my favourite things – music, dancing, lovely clothes, beautiful colours in a sort of ‘bonkers’ way – link below:

https://fb.watch/2sXKbNRRBE/

Going home for Christmas? No chance of that!

This morning started with my usual ‘sand-walking’ training, partly as my legs were tired from playing tennis yesterday and they needed to get moving, and partly to make the most of still being able to walk on the beach, despite it being nearly Christmas! Christmas! It won’t be long before it will be a year since all of this craziness started. God. What a thought!

Anyway, whilst walking (and taking some pics since it was such a gorgeous day), I pondered the fact that I haven’t been blogging as much as usual, and wondered whether I should keep it going, despite the fact that I am already halfway through my second ‘book’, which will, when it is finished, be called ‘Second Wave’. No prizes for guessing what that is about…..

Anyway, you now know that I have had my first lot of blogs published – ‘100 Days in Spain – Diary of a Lockdown’ – and that has actually kept me pretty busy for the last few weeks, plus now that all the marketing is starting, it is getting pretty exciting; actually, according to Facebook this morning, the Amazon link to the book has been viewed something like 200,000 times in the last week (if I believe it.. not really sure that I do!!), although unfortunately not all views have turned into sales (!). Some have, though, (and thank you to those that have bought!), and hopefully a few more will; I will probably give most of the proceeds to charity anyway, since this is not going to be, nor was it planned to be, something that will keep me in the style that I want to be accustomed to forever, but it has all been a lot of fun!

I discussed the second book with my friend Adam the other day, saying that I was finding it a lot more difficult to write entertainingly when life here has become pretty ‘normal’ and there is less ‘excitement’ – OK, not really normal in the old sense of the word, but a lot more than it was earlier in the year. Adam’s view was that I should be less honest (I have tried to write exactly what is happening each day without any ‘artistic license’) and that a few odd exaggerations thrown in might liven things up a bit, but I am still not sure I want to go down that road. Especially as, since we were discussing it, I remembered quite a few snippets of activity over the last couple of weeks that anyone reading this might find interesting (and if you think I have made up any of the following or exaggerated it, do let me know!).

So instead of talking about what is happening on Twitter (my old friend Jan the Elder of the rock-hard bum fame suggested the other day that I read too many ‘activists’ on there, to which I responded that I hardly think that my Sir John, Alastair Campbell et al could hardly be called activists, but I suppose it depends on where you stand on everything), or the politics in the UK (or the CR for that matter), I thought I would give a bit of an update on some of the other things that I have been banging on about lately.

First of all, you may remember that I mentioned earlier in the year (in the days when I could run, sigh) that I was jogging up the mountain track one morning and I heard what I thought was a pack of wild dogs in the near distance – I never found out what/where they were, but I read an article earlier this week about the problem that Spain has with the increasing number of wolves in the mountains, due to (guess?!) the Covid-pandemic. Not that the wolves have brought the virus (before anyone gets excited), but because they are usually controlled and culled, and that is not possible at the moment. So if I had been planning on running up the mountain any time soon (and I am not, sadly), I probably wouldn’t now, although ever since I read a book by Jodi Picoult called ‘Lone Wolf’ I have been slightly fascinated by them; not enough, though, to want to meet a pack of them out strolling one morning.

Next, the cigarette ends and flying mattress. We did believe that that had resolved itself, as, as I think I mentioned at the time, an elderly lady (Czech, of course – we are gradually being surrounded by Czechs who either fled here during Communism (in her case) or who have fled here recently to get away from the Covid that still seems to be raging in the CR) appeared at our gate the afternoon after we found it on our balcony and claimed that it was hers, alluding to the fact that she lives in the house just behind ours (not that that necessarily explains how a large mattress flew out of a window and landed on our balcony about 100 metres away… but….). Anyway, it now transpires that that house is actually empty, and no-one that we have asked has ever met an elderly Czech lady around here (only an elderly lady with a Czech… me!!) – so that remains a mystery, particularly as the fag ends have started appearing again and we are now at a loss to know where they are coming from.

And then there is the situation with the near-kidnapping; I mentioned to one of my friends on the Pueblo that we had been told this story, and her view was that it may have been a bit of a ‘cry for help’ and that it was the girl’s boyfriend that had, in fact, kidnapped her in the first place, and now she is being kept here as some sort of sex slave (now, I know that you think I am exaggerating on this point, but you never know down here in Marbella!!). Anyway, despite the fact that I run very little risk of being sold off to anyone nowadays, I am being a little more wary about walking around in some of the more deserted streets around here, especially now that it is getting a lot darker!

The other intriguing thing is the ongoing search for the tall, blonde man that ran down and killed a young guy in the next town from us. Every time I go to the tennis club at the moment, there is a large police roadblock outside, and the majority of cars are stopped and searched (so far, not mine, but it seems that they are only stopping men). My presumption is that they know that the ‘killer’ is lying low in the mountains up from the tennis club and they expect him to make a run for it at some point, which is kind of thrilling in a nasty sort of way. But you know how it is when you see the police – you always feel guilty, and each time I go past them I wonder if they will pull me over and surprise me by finding someone hiding in my boot or something. I mentioned this to Juan the hairdresser yesterday, whilst having a bit of a chop, and he looked at me sadly and said ‘you know, Jo, this is Marbella and every evening there is something being kidnapped, stolen, brought in or shot at’ – so, really, who knows with any of this!

Other than dodging kidnappers, walking on the sand, avoiding police roadblocks and generally trying not to talk about Covid (or, even worse just now, Brexit), life here has been fairly normal for the last couple of months, although that is not to say that we wouldn’t want to go back to Prague again some time soon (just now we could, of course, but then we might not be able to come back (Spain has been talking about stopping anyone from coming in from outside… so far not, but you never know). I’ve given up on all my weird and wonderful fitness regimes and now go to the gym in the tennis club every other day as well as doing two days a week of tennis training (still not able to move that well, but loving being able to wallop a ball around nonetheless), plus I have found (through the Czech ‘mafia’ here (I wrote that jokingly, but then reflecting on what I have been saying earlier, maybe it is not such a joke…!)) a fantastic new Czech ‘leg doctor’, who has already improved my knee considerably, so that’s good. And, even better, the work is slowly starting to trickle in again (for me, Jan continues to be busy), so I think the days of hysteria may well be over. But who knows.

In the meantime, and for the first time ever, we are preparing for Christmas in Marbella. Usually at this time of year (well, actually, most times of year) there are all sorts of religious processions going on on a more or less daily basis (to coincide with the endless bank holidays they have over here….) but not this year. The Marbella town council has, however, gone all out to make sure people feel Christmassy, with all sorts of expensive decorations all over town (did I say that slightly bitchily? Maybe…. but, you know, with so many people in dire straits down here (as everywhere) I am not sure that spending a blinkin’ fortune on planting row upon row of poinsettias along every road, and lighting up every tree, road sign etc is really the right thing), but maybe I am being a bore. Will try to be less so next time!

Hospitality in Crisis (III)

PRAGUE CONGRESS CENTRE

The Prague Congress Centre (‚PCC‘), or, as it was originally called, the ‚Palace of Culture‘, is one of the best-known large-scale congress venues in Europe.   Originally built in 1981 by the old regime, and used for huge ‚Communist party gatherings‘, once the country opened up, the building remained as an icon of the bad old days, and was viewed with some distaste by the young Czechs that I knew when I first arrived in Czechoslovakia in 1990.

At that time, the PCC was trying to reinvent itself as an international conference venue, and I found it intriguing as it was/is so huge and, at that time, so uninviting.   It also had a very dodgy nightclub on the ground floor that many of us early expats used to visit having first dined or been to the bar in the next door ‚Forum Hotel‘ (now the Corinthia Towers and 5 star luxury, then one of just a handful of hotels in the city, and the venue for many dubious parties and rave-ups!).

The PCC’s location on the main highway into Prague, and its size (it has 13,000 m2 of indoor event space, divided into 20 large halls and 50 meeting rooms of various sizes), plus the Czech Republic’s location in the very centre of Europe, has ensured, however, that even before the whole building was modernised in 2017 it was already becoming host to several high profile events (including the World Monetary Fund Conference in 2000), but in the last few years the PCC has firmly established itself as one of the best and most popular convention centres in Europe.   This is due, in no small part, to the team involved in running it, particularly my good friend Lenka Zlebkova, formerly the Sales & Marketing Director and now the CEO.

Knowing how much work is involved in bringing a big congress to town, and how long it takes to bring such an event to fruition, I have been wondering what the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic has been on a centre the size of the PCC and on the huge team and complexity involved in keeping the place operational.  To say nothing of the marketing required to ensure that there are events arriving again once we enter into a ‘new normal’ world.    So I got on to Lenka to discuss it all.  Again, this is in the form of an interview as the discussion was held from afar!

JW: So, Lenka, how have you been managing since March?

LZ: Since March, everything has been dependent on governmental restrictions.  So when the situation got better in June, and right through until September, we were able to host a few local events – e.g. the general assembly of CEZ, a women’s conference ‘Všem ženám’ (To All Women) and the ‘Conference of the Institute of Health Information and Statistics of the Czech Republic’.  Other than those, all other events were either cancelled or moved to the following years.

JW:  So have you been doing anything particular in order to keep staff/the space occupied, and, if so, what?

LZ: Yes, we kept open and we continued with several refurbishment projects as well as some new initiatives.   We created a new PCC Live TV studio for virtual and hybrid meetings and during the summer we started a project called ‘Art District Vyšehrad’ with the aim of opening up our northern terrace to a wider public in the beautiful surroundings of the historical and green Prague District – Vyšehrad.   During the summer we held open-air dancing classes and jazz evenings there as the whole area includes a coffee shop and wine shop.  People really enjoyed it, but unfortunately, due to the 2nd wave of COVID and the current governmental restrictions, we had to temporarily stop it.

JW: Have you had to lay many people off and how are you keeping your staff motivated generally? 

LZ: We had to lay off around 25% of our people. Those we kept on are mostly all highly-motivated people that are committed to the PCC’s survival, and passionate about our mission to create a great place where you can enjoy inspirational and magic moments. We mainly communicate online with each other with various different meetings; some formal, some brainstorming sessions and some informal, such as “Coffee with the CEO”. It is really tough for everyone, but we need to keep a positive mindset and look forward to a better tomorrow.

JW: Since most of your events are from outside the CR and are booked well in advancehow are you managing your marketing for next year and future years?

LZ: From a long-term point of view we believe that international meetings will be back, so we continue with some activities as usual (for example, researching potential international meetings, preparing bidding processes etc.).  Only our marketing tools are changing: we are switching to an online world that includes virtual tours of our property, participating in online B-B contracting fairs, etc.  From a short-term point of view though, we have switched our focus to the local market, and that includes expanding our long-term rentals towards start-ups and research & development companies that could, together with our conferences, help to enhance the knowledge economy of the Czech Republic.

JW: How do you feel about the whole situation? Will the Congress Centre actually survive if the lockdown continues well into next year?

LZ: Yes, we will survive thanks to a few different factors. First, we do not depend only on conferences, but 40% of our income is based on long-term commercial rentals and parking.  Second, we had really great results over the last couple of years, so we have quite a big financial reserve. And last, we are modifying our strategy as well as our services so that we can generate some revenue either from online or hybrid conferences. 

JW: Do you ever feel like just closing the doors and giving up?

LZ: Never 😊. There is nothing we can do about the current situation, but we can influence how we approach it. The crisis is also an opportunity to evolve.

JW: What special things do youpersonally, do to keep ‘positive’?

LZ: At work, I try to keep busy with new projects and ideas, so my mind is occupied and I have no time for negative moods.  On a personal level, I am spending more time with my family and in the countryside. I have started gardening around our new house and the gradual transformation fills me with joy.

JW: Can you give any examples of revenue this year, previous years, expected for next year?

LZ: Our standard company revenue for the last couple of years was above 500 mil. CZK (just under Euro 2 million). This year we are expecting a 55% drop in revenue, hopefully going back up next year, but still we are expecting about 30-40% less than in 2019.

JW: How do you think the big event industry will change for the future? 

Well, the meeting industry will certainly change towards new formats of meetings. New health and hygienic protocols will be established, and venues will need to be certified.  A bigger role will be played by hybrid and virtual events but, as I like to say, the personal aspect of an event is irreplaceable, so F-F meetings will certainly be back. It is only a question of time – once we have a vaccination, and once the international flights start again, we are sure these big events will happen just as much, if not more.   People will be so happy to finally get together!

JW:  Do you have any offers you would like to include for readers of the blog?

LZ: We are currently renting out our multifunctional virtual studio – the PCC Live TV Studio – and we are able to arrange hybrid events with live streaming from one or more of our conference halls and meeting rooms. We are fulfilling all the necessary health and safety protocols such as disinfection, ionisation of premises, social distancing, facial masks, temperature measurements, contactless registration so trying to create safe environment for people to meet again.

For sure, many hotels in Prague will take some comfort from the above, since attracting big events back to the Czech Republic is good for everyone in the hospitality industry – we can all remember events such as the World Bank Conference that filled every hotel and restaurant in town for days on end!   Let’s hope Lenka is right, and they will start happening again soon!

The rain in Spain falls….

As we kind of expected, the sun DID stop shining this week and for the last couple of days it has been chucking it down, making it difficult to venture out at all. Not because we are ‘whoozies’ – I mean, come on, I grew up in the UK and we are used to rain – but Marbella is just not cut out for this amount of water to fall, which means, always, that the roads turn into rivers, and driving or walking is more or less impossible. But that’s good (got to keep positive), it means that we have had a chance to catch up with all sorts of exciting things, such as draining the pool and then allowing it to fill up again and repeating, some housework, which Jan always enjoys, and even some regular bits of work and so on.

I have also been spending more time than usual on my social media watch each morning; partly as there is less urgency to get going when it’s raining, and partly, of course, as things in the three countries that I mostly watch, are not exactly improving. In addition to all the depression, though, there are always some interesting and non-Covid or Brexit topics which I like. One that I have been following over the last few days, and which I think in the early days of writing this blog I commented on before, is how many new words have been added to our vocabulary over the last few months, and don’t we all now use these as a matter of course and many times a day: lockdown, Covid, social distancing, ‘curve is flattening’, furlough, ‘take a test’, hand-sanitizer… I am sure there are more (remind me please!), plus I have been keeping hold of a few new ones: optionality, presenteeism, randomness, bloviate and, today, my absolute favourite, snollygoster! Snollygoster!!! It actually means, and you know where I am going with this, ‘a shrewd, unprincipled person, especially a politician!!!!’ Fabulous. The others are obvious or I can’t quite remember, but this one is going into my own ‘library of favourite words’ to add to ‘discombobulated’ (i.e. how most of us feel at the moment) and ‘pantwettingly [awful]’ (same comment!) which I have mentioned before.

So the ‘snollygoster in chief’ in the UK has announced that the country will continue to be in some form of lockdown for a bit longer (at least that is what I think he said, it is not always clear!), but over Christmas everyone will be able to get together (up to a point) and socialise for the five day holiday period before, presumably, going back into another lockdown soon after, when all the numbers are sure to shoot up again. Call me a heartless cow if you like, but I just don’t get this whole Christmas thing …. of course everyone would love it to be normal, but wouldn’t it make sense to just postpone it for a few more months and then make Easter or something into a bigger event? Just saying…. we, ourselves, will be hiding down here in Spain and treating the whole period just the same as every other day (although I do hope to receive a few presents!!).

Maybe I am just in a bad mood today (although I don’t really feel that grumpy) but another thing that I am getting mildly irritated by (or was until I read one thing on Twitter which I will show you next), is Maradona dying. It is, of course, very sad. But in the scheme of things, is it really such a major headline? We Brits do love to celebrate people when they die (and also love to put the boot in when they are alive!), and forget sometimes what they were really like (Princess Diana anyone? I still remember being stunned by all the emotion on her death when, let’s face it, she had been pretty unpopular for many years before that!). Maradona is another one – short (sorry, nothing wrong with being short, but you know what I mean), dumpy, drug-taking, cheating and (in the UK, where all the excitement is) an ‘Argie’ as well. But now he will be turned into a saint. For those of you too young to remember him, he was, supposedly, one of the greatest footballers of all time, but I didn’t really agree…. until I saw this (and even if you don’t like football, it is worth a watch!):

This morning, for the third day in a row, the rain has been sheeting down again and I spent longer than usual on my social media watch, before making myself do some ‘hard training’ without actually setting foot outside the house – having got used to all of our walking and now playing tennis again, I had almost forgotten how to do it, especially as I have slightly gone off my Bollywood app – I think I have gone as far as I can now with it unless I get the chance to put all my routines into proper use (i.e. a film or something equally modest) – so instead I did four rounds of the 7 App that I was using during lockdown – the exciting thing about that (and I am really struggling to find anything to say that is ‘really’ exciting’) is that I can now do lots of ‘star’ jumps and running-on-the- spot sessions without my knee hurting. Another exciting thing is that according to the App, doing four sessions put me into the ‘Olympic athlete category’ which I felt was pretty good for a woman of a certain age (albeit rubbish)! The reason that I am mentioning this, though, is to show that even without any equipment or going outside, it is possible to do a pretty good training in your own living room or wherever!

Talking about dancing and being of a certain age, too, a friend posted on his FB page this morning a fab dance routine which I just had to share since it demonstrates, again, that even us older generation can still strutt-our-stuff (and it’s not Jan, by the way) – just click on ‘Watch on Facebook’ if it doesn’t show up properly:

So apart from looking at social media, videos and messages, and doing the exercise routine above, and Jan running in the pouring rain and coming back completely soaked again, that takes me pretty much up to date – actually the last few days have been a bit like the old ‘lockdown’ of the Spring, without actually being locked down; we have been watching too much news and will walk to the supermarket later (if it ever stops raining) in order to get our steps up, and that will be it. The only other thing that I wanted to mention is that I am a bit intrigued about how ‘well’ we and pretty much everyone else we know have been (all fingers and so on crossed) – I don’t mean Covid, but usually by December, I have had at least two or three colds and a few sore throats – not this year! It could be that we have been here in the fresh air rather than the polluted city… but might it also be due to wearing masks and keeping our distance? I kind of think, at least in my case, that irrespective of whether we ever have a vaccine, mask wearing is going to continue to be a way of life. I will be interested to hear what others think!

More soon!

Hospitality in Crisis (11)

PRAGUE MARRIOTT HOTEL

 I have had a very long relationship with the Marriott Hotel in Prague, from when it first opened and I kept my car in its carpark, to the many different client events that my agency organised in its conference centre or I attended, to some of the best Sunday brunches ever in its restaurant.   Years ago, when the hotel opened its ‘World Class fitness centre’ in the basement and my trainer took up residence, the hotel pretty much became my ‘second office’ in Prague – most mornings I would head to the gym first thing (which, when I was super busy, was at about 6.30 in the morning, and at that time you would see heads of many big companies there; it was probably the best place for business development!) and then organise any meetings that I needed in the centre of town to take place in the hotel’s coffee shop or bar (for breakfast, obviously!). 

I last visited just a couple of days before everything started to go crazy, at the beginning of March.  At that time, the hotel was in the middle of a massive expansion and reconstruction programme which the GM, William Boulton-Smith, and everyone involved with the hotel, was getting increasingly excited about.   With all hotels suffering horribly during the past nine months, I wondered what had been going on in this landmark hotel in Prague, and therefore spoke to William to find out more (and since I am now locked down in Spain again, the following is in the form of a written interview!).

JW: How did you manage the period from March to the end of the first lockdown in the CR?   

WBS: We were essentially closed for the whole of the first lock down but we continued work on the expansion plans that were started in 2019, with the end of the works planned for next January/February. On reopening following the first lockdown, we got creative with new ways of generating business, such as operating a takeout coffee service from our new ‘Artisan Corner’ and offering our premium meeting spaces to individuals and businesses looking for a professional environment to work in, outside of their own office.

JW: I think you stayed open throughout the summer (both the hotel and all restaurants)?   Did you have to slash prices, and what sort of occupancy levels did you have in the hotels, especially compared to normal?  Was it possible to stay profitable during that period or you were just ‘keeping afloat’?

WBS: Prices certainly went down during that period, although in our view there was no point in slashing prices dramatically since we had just invested so much in the hotel. Instead we focused on improving and heightening our health and hygiene processes and made these the cornerstones of our operations. Occupancy ranged from 7-15% throughout Prague, meaning that if we had lowered our prices we would have had more work for the same money, with higher costs. There was no long-term benefit in this, especially as we are geared towards the business segment and we realised we were unlikely to capture a large slice of the local leisure markets. To ensure continued income we tried to develop our business in a creative way. We opened our new Artisan Corner, and our restaurant and meeting spaces presented us with the opportunity to keep up a steady stream of business, but with further waves of the virus potentially coming in the future we knew that we had to establish a ‘New Normal’ hotel experience that focuses on high standards of cleanliness. We need to entice guests back by ensuring that they feel confident about staying in our hotel, since trust plays such a key role in the visitor experience at any hotel, even under normal circumstances.

JW: Now that the country is in lockdown again, are you trying any new things?

WBS: We continue in much the same way as before, with our main focus on health and hygiene: we are striving to be the most modern and up-to-date hotel in Prague and our global “Commitment to Clean” initiative continues to guide our operations, since this focuses on enhanced cleaning and hygiene protocols at all Marriott hotels.

JW: How do you feel about the whole situation?  Will the hotel survive if the lockdown continues past Christmas?

WBS: We probably won’t find out until the beginning of 2021. Obviously hotels that are part of bigger international brands have a big advantage over smaller, domestic chains. The Marriott has a loyalty programme that includes around 130 to 140 million people worldwide, which is a massive number.  45-60% of our visitors to Prague are people with a loyalty programme card and these customers provide us with great opportunities, both now and in the post-pandemic era. The main advantage is their loyalty to the brand, which is one of the reasons behind our strength in the market. Our main worry is how the smaller, independent hotels will ride the storm. Hotels with 30 rooms can be serviced by only a few people – for example by a single family – but larger ones need a lot of staff and incur other added costs. Such hotels will face problems. Small Czech hotel chains do not have many tools at their disposal to keep their businesses going and many of these have already closed their doors, as have other businesses in the hospitality sector: the number of empty shops and small independent shops, particularly in Prague, seems to be growing by the day.

JW: I know most of your marketing has been carried out centrally, and you are, of course, a well-known brand.  But since I believe you mostly target the American market will you be changing your strategy as and when things get back to normal?  How do you keep staff morale going?

WBS: We will have to adjust our strategy and focus on areas and markets where we can see that travelling is relatively easy and commonplace. There will be lots of new opportunities, and we are studying all the options. The biggest challenge facing Prague is airlift; developments in air transportation will be crucial for the return of tourists. If airlines are unable to fill planes, we cannot hope to return to the 2018/19 numbers for at least the next 2-3 years. In terms of staff morale, the most important thing is keeping them informed. You have to communicate with them, explain the situation, and be honest. Everyone knows the challenge facing the industry, and if they are informed about the impact on the business they are supportive and want to work with you to make things better.

JW: Do you ever feel like just closing the doors and giving up?

WBS: That is not in my nature. You have to fight but stay true to your principles. The hotel industry as a whole has to take responsibility for its own destiny. We need to implement new solutions to bring customers back when restrictions are lifted. This means putting hygiene and cleanliness first, while keeping our service standards as high as ever. Nobody can guarantee a COVID-free zone, but we must do our best to minimise the risks for everyone staying in the hotel. Making sure that customers feel safe and secure is more vital than ever across the entire hospitality sector. I firmly believe that people will return to the hotels which served them well during these difficult times.

JW: What special things do you do to stay ‘positive’?

WBS: Sometimes it’s important to just take a deep breath. I try to accept the situation as it is without becoming fatalistic and without losing hope, because one day this will all be in the past. I am determined not to slow down, to keep striving to make things better until the situation is over. At the moment I am busy looking for new ideas and ways in which we can improve our business in the future. I also try to keep in touch with some of our regulars to find out how they are doing and to strengthen the bond between us. On a more personal level, exercise is a great way of staying positive. There is a nice 50-60km route that I enjoy cycling, which always clears my mind. I also try to get out on the golf course as much as I can.

JW: Is there anything else that you think could be useful to others reading this blog?

WBS: Right now, the world needs innovation, adaptability and creativity. We have certainly had to adapt our operations, and creative thinking has been all-important: opening up a takeaway coffee service from ‘The Artisan Corner’ coffee shop, for example, or moving away from a buffet breakfast to ‘A la carte’. As the Artisan restaurant is now closed, we have put our chefs to good use and asked them to come up with a fresh breakfast concept that takes inspiration from a dinner style of service. This has been really well received: prior to lockdown, we started to attract non-residents for breakfast at the Marriott. The same goes for brunch: we serve brunch course-by-course at the table, with dishes either arriving together or separately depending on preference. Guests had to be encouraged to try this new brunch concept, but when they did they immediately fell in love with it. All of a sudden, brunch had been transformed into a proper family lunch. With people no longer having to constantly leave the table to get food, the experience is much, much more sociable. It also meant guests tried a bigger variety of dishes, instead of sticking with the same old things.

JW: Are there any offers that you would like to include for readers of this blog?  

WBS: I would definitely suggest that readers take a look at our residential package, which we recently introduced as part of our ‘Winter Charity’ promotion. This package includes parking, breakfast, and a donation per night to the Salvation Army to support those without homes during the coming winter months. The Marriott is constantly striving to support local communities. We recently gave a donation of over 70,000 crowns to SOS Czechia, the fundraising initiative led by Člověk v tísni. Although like every hotel in the country we are struggling with the closure of our business and reduced revenues, we are grateful that our position within the Marriott International brand gives us the possibility to keep helping those in serious difficulties. Our website has all the latest information about our other exciting offers, and I strongly recommend that readers take a look: www.marriotthotels.com.

For many people (including me!) the Prague Marriott Hotel is a focal point in the centre of Prague, and it is hard to imagine that whole area of the city if it were to fail.  I decided to feature it here, even though I have never worked for it (in fact I used to work for the Kempinski (as was then) just around the corner!) as I think that it is easy to feel that the ‚big guys‘ will be OK and we need to support the small local companies (which, of course, we have to do too).  The fact is, though, that just as with the Puente Romano in my previous blog, these big hotels  need the local community now more than ever, as if they fail, then the rest will likely tumble around their ears. 

Sand-walking and endless other forms of excitement

Most mornings recently, after lying around and doing my social and other media trolls, I have been heading off to the beach to walk on the sand. Now I know that those of you in Prague, especially, will probably say ‘oh what a drag for you’, but actually it is really blimmin’ hard work, as I am doing what my physio asked, and that is walking barefoot for as long as possible in quite deep sand in order to strengthen my knee muscles. When he first suggested this I said, gaily, that I could do it ‘standing on my head’ (not literally, another of our weird English expressions….) because it sounded so easy. And it is not at all!! After about 20 minutes I am dripping with sweat and in a state of collapse, which is not great when you consider that I then have to walk all the way back up our hill to get home.

It also involves quite a lot of concentration, which is not always my strongest point, especially when I have my phone in my hand! The other day, whilst chatting away at the same time as walking, not only did I go straight past my friends setting up camp on the beach for the morning, but I also continued right into the sea since I had got to a part where the tide had come in further – and it was only because it was freezing and made me jump that I avoided becoming a first line of a thriller – you know the ones where a man (it is usually a man (at this point Jan will probably say that that’s because a lot of men live with women!)) was last seen walking out into the sea and either pitches up some time later with a new identity, or turns into a nutcase and becomes a serial killer or similar… I know. I have a funny taste in books…!

The other reason why I am doing the sand walking as well as my usual training regimes, is that I have been putting on a bit of weight over the last few weeks – to say that that has incensed me, would be an understatement, but those of you that have read my earlier blogs will know that this is one of my lifelong battles. Actually I read an article the other morning in the Czech media that said that according to a recent survey, something like 60% of people asked said that they had gained weight during lockdown (plus there was a lot of talk about various psychological problems and addictions caused by it), and I am not surprised. It is just so difficult to stay disciplined day after day, especially when there is not a lot to do – in fact, against my better judgement, I decided to try one of those ‘fasting’ diets for a while (the one where you have eight hours of eating and 16 of fasting, on the basis that if I stayed in bed for long enough and then went walking and training, the sixteen hours of fasting would be easy. So it was, but by the time they were over, I was so hungry that I had to eat everything I could lay my hands on for the other eight hours and in only four days I managed to put on a kilo. Great. I know, of course, (and I can hear Vlad the Impaler in my ear as I speak) that at the end of the day it is all about calories in and calories out, and it doesn’t really matter when they go in.. just that more go out. For me, though, being a ‘woman of a certain age’, I either have to eat dust all day and exercise hard, or eat a bit more and/or exercise even harder. So here we are, back to the dust.

The other way to avoid eating is, of course, to keep away from any source of food or drink, so whilst we are able, we are keeping on the move for a good part of the day. Just now we are unable to go outside Marbella (yup, Spain has got on the ‘making up individual (and, in my opinion, daft) rules on a regular basis’ bandwagon), so pretty much every time we get into the car we see loads of police; this has been even more the case in the last couple of days as there was a murder in the next town along from us during the week, so cars are being stopped all the time (apparently they are looking for a tall, blonde guy, possibly English, and since there aren’t a lot of those around here (tall, blonde or English), hopefully they will find him soon!). Still on the ‘Costa del Crime’ theme, we were chatting to the girlfriend of another house owner by the pueblo pool just today (sorry, yes, it is warm enough to lie by the pool!), who, whilst we were discussing running, said that she doesn’t like running up or down our hill, and I commiserated. However, it has nothing to do with the impact on her knees (as it is in my case) but more because, she said, she was nearly kidnapped last time she ran up it. She actually said it quite normally, as if people get kidnapped around here all the time (although.. maybe they do, we just don’t know about all of this excitement!), but, anyway, it seems that a car with some dodgy-looking characters inside followed her up the hill and then parked just around the corner and lay in wait for her – she, in the meantime, had called her [Columbian] boyfriend who arrived by the car at the same time that she did, so they legged it…. Well. It seems that all of those days of walking to and from the supermarket every day may not have been as safe as I thought (although, to be fair, I am probably less saleable on the ‘white woman slave trade’ market than her).

Other than avoiding the police, kidnappers and tall blonde killers, we have been quite busy doing not a lot, although there has been some tennis for me, running for Jan, and a new sport of ‘counting the cars passing under the motorway bridge’ on our evening walks, on the basis that everywhere is closed from 6.00 pm, so we wonder where all those cars are going. We know how to enjoy ourselves.

I joke, of course, since despite the lockdown here being a lot easier than anywhere else (and a million miles from the lockdown earlier in the year) it is, nevertheless, getting a bit tedious, and for sure once the sun eventually cools down it will be a lot more, but so far we are managing to stay fairly cheerful. I therefore thought that the picture that I saw on Twitter this morning was apt, and a good way to sign off for now. More soon.

Good publicity, bad publicity and no publicity

I had planned to start this latest blog with the words ‘bit by bit the autumn/winter in Marbella is setting in’ since for most of last week the days were much cooler, plus we had a bit of rain. But then we woke up yesterday morning to bright sunshine again and saw, according to my weather app, that the forecast for the rest of this week is for more of the same, so I scrapped that.

One thing about the weather being less good though was that I found it easier to motivate myself to move on with a few potential projects, and some of them are starting to get quite interesting – more on those soon. I wonder, though, if I am the only one that has secretly started enjoying not doing very much – maybe it is just that we have got used to it now, but even though we can go out and about here in Marbella (unlike before) most days I can barely be bothered (especially when the sun is shining!). Once our exercise is out of the way (and thankfully I haven’t lost my appetite for that, otherwise I would have turned into a fat lazy sloth by now) I am pretty happy just sitting about pondering – OK pondering some work-type projects, but not actually doing a great deal. I must say that if I was nearer the start rather than the end of my career, I would be very worried! And that makes me wonder how all of this is going to affect those people that have been furloughed for ages; I can’t help but think that by the time they can go safely back to work, they just won’t want to. We shall see.

Having said that, though, I did have a call with an IT friend this morning who said that he is absolutely flat out as all of his clients want to speak to him, not any of his team, and having to find time to do that as well as managing everyone else remotely AND actually doing the work is proving near impossible – that brought me up short, as of course he is seeing the other side of the coin, i.e. the additional burden of having to manage both his clients and employees from afar, whilst still actually doing the work. I think, at the moment, I would rather be in my shoes than his!

So what’s new? As usual, there have been a few interesting bits on social media over the past few days; first a small article about the England football manager having tested positive just a day or so after a big event in London, and how that news was kept very quiet – in particular, the person writing the article had been at the event and hadn’t been informed. Once upon a time, this kind of news in the UK would have been splattered all over the tabloid papers, but since he is generally regarded as one of the better football managers, I suppose it has all been hushed up (of course, had he patted a young lady’s bottom or something like that, they would still have jumped all over it!).

What hasn’t been hushed up, though, is BJ going into isolation again, having been in contact with someone with Covid – just imagine if he proves positive…. either he will be one of just a handful of people to get it twice, and/or there will be speculation that the first time around was made up. Either way, I think that it doesn’t bode well for his future; particularly as, and apologies in advance for the corny play on words (but Jan will love it), there have been lots of Cummings and Goveings over the past few days, with Cummings, BJ’s senior advisor having been kicked out (sorry, left), and Gove being rumoured to be getting ready to do a leadership coup (and what a nasty little reptile he is).

Meantime, in the Czech Republic, the numbers are coming down and there is talk about things opening up again in time for Christmas (although we now hear that they are going to try a new idea of only allowing one person per 15 m2 into each shop…. I dunno. I think I have said this before, but wouldn’t it be sensible for all countries to do the same things rather than individually trying to come up with some new ‘solution’ to the spreading of the virus? This one seems to me to be a bit daft – I was in Aldi yesterday bobbing and weaving around a small traffic jam of two elderly people and a trolley and trying to keep my distance, so not sure how that is going to pan out….). But, anyway, let’s hope that if the lockdown does ease up over Christmas, the numbers don’t go soaring back up again in January and another merry-go-round kicks off.

I know we are all keeping our fingers crossed for the vaccine… but personally I don’t see that making too much difference for a while yet, so just wonder if we shouldn’t be focusing more on other ways to get back to normal… and on that, here is yet another link to an article that was sent to me by Jan the Elder and which I think has some interesting points to make:

https://thecritic.co.uk/where-is-parliament/

Outside of all that is going on with politics, Covid and the weather, we have settled back into our ‘new normal’ routine which, at the moment, includes a lot of tennis (both playing and watching) – my knee is bearing up, so that is great, and Marbella has been inundated with tennis players (Karolina Pliskova seems to have more or less moved in, plus there are Czech kids all over the place), and the London Masters has started. So that’s good – or is it? Just two thoughts on that (for now): one, how is it possible for these tennis players (much as we love them) to travel to the UK from all over and not go into quarantine? And two; does anyone other than people like us (fanatics) find it in any way interesting when there is so little atmosphere without fans (I even fell asleep on Sunday night watching Nadal)? I can’t help but think that unless these sports get back to some normality, they will be doomed – sponsors will drop out, and without income from entrance fees, how will these huge prize money events continue? And if they don’t, then bye-bye all the big names….. hmmmm?

Finally, as I feel I may have drivelled on for a bit too long; it’s not just the Czechs that are pitching up here at the moment, but quite a few Brits too. And what we hear from them is exactly what I said some months ago, and that is that the PR that Spain gets in the UK is terrible – all of those that we have met have told us that they have wanted to come but were scared to – the feeling being that the minute they stepped foot on Spanish soil the virus would jump on them (unlike in the UK huh?). And since they got here they have realised how daft that was. I hope they will keep spreading the word, as Spain needs tourists! But then, don’t we all.