Coronavirus: cautious optimism as businesses prepare to reopen

Restaurant owners call for rent relief when restrictions are eased

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , March 24 – 2020 :- View of the empty streets near Dubai Creek as people are staying home as a preventive measure against coronavirus in Deira Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For News/Online/Standalone.

Restaurants and hotels in Dubai are preparing for their business to reopen in the emirate.

Owners said they were cautiously optimistic about a return to normal working hours and practices.

The hospitality sector has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

As yet, the full picture of its financial effect remains unclear, but many businesses are known to be struggling.

Erol Erguvenc, regional vice president of Gourmet Gulf, which manages outlets such as Yo! Sushi and Texas de Brazil, said restaurants would need time to recover.

“A lot of people have been laid off or had their salary reduced so there will not be a lot of spare cash around,” Mr Erguvenc said.

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Opening malls again would be great news but it will take time for people to get more confident.

“Opening malls again would be great news but it will take time for people to get more confident.

“The social distancing will continue and the maximum time [allowed outside in one day] may be three hours.

“There will be a lot of nervousness about going to public places.”

On Thursday, Dubai authorities set out new guidelines designed to help ease work and travel restrictions.

Under the plan, which has not yet been implemented, residents will be allowed to visit family members during Ramadan and leave home for “one outdoor activity” each day.

Some businesses, including malls, will also be allowed to reopen, with time and diner numbers restricted.

In malls, shopping time will be limited to three hours a person and masks must be worn at all times.

Restaurants will be limited to just 30 per cent of capacity, with tables set two metres apart.

Mr Erguvenc called on mall operators to reduce their rents to help with the recovery process.

“If landlords charge us the full rent it will be very tough for us all to survive,” he said.

“If rates remain the same, I don’t think many of the smaller companies will last until the end of the year.

“We need help from the government and the malls, with rent based on turnover.”

Mahmoud Harb, managing director of Lebanese restaurant chain Malak Al Tawouk, said his restaurants were among the first in the city to take preventive action against Covid-19, ensuring customers stayed safe.

Today, all staff are given regular temperature checks and reminded to wash hands and change their gloves every 15 minutes.

“The government has taken extreme measures and the number of tests being done is incredible,” Mr Harb said.

“But there should be a balance between lockdown for public health and support for business.

“This will not end tomorrow. We will live with this for quite sometime.”

David Allen, a general manager at the Radisson Hotel Group, also expressed caution.

“We are all desperate to get back to business as quickly as possible but people’s safety remains a priority,” Mr Allen said.

“We don’t fully know what restrictions will be in place as the hotel industry begins to reopen.

“There will be a big focus on controlling numbers to maintain social distancing and that will be government led.

“There are significant number of hotels in Dubai and without flights operating to bring in tourists, they will have to open gradually to see what the demand will be like.”