No sector in the U.S. economy has been hit as hard by the COVID downturn as entertainment and hospitality, which has been largely on ice since the virus first emerged a year ago.
But Jennifer Chandler, chair and associate professor of management at Cal State Fullerton’s College of Business and Economics, sees a positive long-term future the industry.
“The industry’s trajectory has changed, but its future remains bright,” says Chandler, noting flexibility, use of technology and customer mindset as reasons to anticipate a renaissance.
Staying Flexible in Trying Times
Though hospitality may have been hardest-hit by COVID, it was also among the first industries within the pandemic to identify the changing needs of consumers and work to address them, from outdoor dining and contactless check-ins to modifying travel plans.
“Safety has become a top priority. For example, it is now reasonable in Orange County to expect that consumers will be more comfortable with outdoor seating and curbside service,” says Chandler, noting the hesitancy of many consumers to embrace the pre-pandemic status quo during those brief windows when restrictions were eased in 2020.
“The pandemic has significantly altered people’s behaviors, perceptions, attitudes and beliefs and will likely leave scars that influence future behavior.”
The entertainment and hospitality sector’s challenge from COVID-19 includes the ever-changing nature of the virus and the understanding of it, but the industry has risen to the challenge through what Chandler calls “plasticity.”
“Plasticity is the ability to quickly pivot and evolve and take on new forms,” she says. “It is foundational to moving forward in the new normal.”
And foremost has been the adoption of new technologies, including online Yelp waitlists, smartphone apps to keep consumers connected, and temperature scanners and artificial intelligence to make in-person experiences safer.
“If this pandemic had occurred even 10 years ago, we would not have had these technologies available to us,” says Chandler. “Hospitality has been able to maintain a welcoming, service-oriented personal touch using their websites, social media and email.”