Saved from crisis, Hospitality awaits a new course

In the film Boudu Saved from Drowning, Michel Simon moves in with his saviour and behaves in such a way that he ends up making him regret having jumped into the water to save him from drowning in the first place. Drawing a parallel with the Cour des Comptes [French Court of Accounts] is daring. Yet it raises the legitimate question of the relevance of the billions poured in by the state to save an entire industry from certain death.

So, was the state's ‘generosity’ legitimate? Was it rewarded? Did the rescued companies live up to the expectations of their saviour? Would it have been better to have acted differently?

Everyone agrees that the massive intervention of the State and its various agencies has saved the work tool, as well as those who are employed in it. It provided subsidies, solidarity funds, furlough, suspension of charges, access to State-guaranteed loans... A whole battery of measures, which has been regularly updated to plug each hole in the boat.

In one way or another, practically all companies benefited from an aid measure during the two-year crisis. Incidentally, some of them pushed their luck a bit further than others, taking advantage of the measures to reap unexpected financial resources.

The Cour des Comptes laments the fact that these companies, and the Tourism sector as a whole, did not take advantage of the moment to invest in the recovery and their transformation. First of all, this is to ignore the temporality of the investment and to skim quickly over all the efforts accomplished by the actors of the hospitality sector at large.

We must not overlook the blend that creates confusion between the companies that encourage French people to travel (most often abroad) and those, of which there are much more, that welcome national and international visitors. They are the ones who create wealth and are aware of the need for investment.

It is true that, after being "saved from drowning", the hotel industry is starting up again with multiple projects tailored to the major sports events soon to take place in France and, more generally, to the changes in client behaviour. We just need to give the project time to be formalised, implemented, and brought to fruition.

When we know the setbacks and delays met by major public investments, such as those encountered by the Grand Paris Express [public transport extension], hospitality is far from being in the same situation. If there is a reproach to be made, it should perhaps be in the direction of the banks, which do not play their role sufficiently in accompanying financing.

The latter are a little quick to hide behind the constraints of Basel III and the analysis of corporate debt. The sudden inclusion of State-guaranteed loans in the debt burden of hotel and restaurant owners greatly limits their ability to invest without bank support. One might expect banks to assume a minimum of risk-taking. It is part of their job to analyse the relevance of business plans.

Many investors, private funds, semi-public funds, or family offices deplore the timidity of banking institutions when it comes to accompanying them on promising projects. Recent results show just how buoyant the hospitality sector is. Companies have been able to restart their activity very quickly after the crisis, despite the enormous difficulties in recruiting.

When the trade balance is deteriorating dangerously, it is the Services sector, and particularly Tourism, which limits the damage with a strong positive balance. Let's give credit to the hospitality sector for this performance. A little boost would be welcome, but it would still require a vision and a governance on par with the stakes.

The hotel sector, more so than any other, has played the game of transformation best. To see this, one just needs to look at the new salary scales, the initiatives for more sustainable and ecological management, the proposal of new concepts...

The Cour des Comptes is undoubtedly right to be more demanding, to hope for a more profound transformation of the sector with ambitious objectives. The government's 'plans' are still in place for a few years yet, but are the aids and incentives being pointed in the right direction? Do we even have a clear idea of what this direction is?

As Erasmus said, a fish always rots from the head down. Are our public power structures sick with power? One can legitimately pose the question.

The industry committee seems to have some difficulty in choosing its path and its operating mode. It would be a pity if the effective tool for managing the crisis were to be transformed into a new "thing", as De Gaulle would have bemoaned it in his time.

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