By Vanessa Cavasinni, editor Australian Hotelier
One of the biggest topics at the 2016 Pub Leaders Summit was lockout legislation and the increasing red tape of compliance.
The first session after the morning tea break, Living with the Lockouts: Stories from the Front Line, was eagerly anticipated and did not disappoint. Sydney pub heavy-hitters, Christopher Cheung of C.inc, Ben Stephens of Solotel and Patrick Gallagher of Gallagher Hotels held a packed room captive as they discussed their own experience with the lockouts.
All parties started with some alarming statistics – Cheung, who started trialling a 2am lockout at his Coogee Bay Hotel five months before the legislation was implemented, saw an 80 per cent decline in traffic to their venue by 12:30am. Ben Stephens told of how the Kings Cross Hotel dropped 20 per cent overnight, and three months later, with the introduction of ID scanners, it had in fact lost 40 per cent of its trade.
Among these harsh figures, Stephens suggested that the lockout laws have had a detrimental effect on the Sydney nightlife scene as a whole, with no real dispersal of traffic to venues outside of the lockout zones.
”The feedback that I’ve got from people that live outside of Sydney, especially from interstate and overseas, is that Sydney is not a fun place to come. So those more destination venues are not necessarily benefitting because they are outside of that Sydney CBD area and there are less people coming to the Sydney area for late night occasions.”
Gallagher was critical of the State Government’s intentions behind the lockout legislation.
“You’ve got to ask what the objective of these laws are – if the objective is to mitigate alcohol-related violence, how are they going to go about doing that? Well what they’re doing, is they are doing it by destroying entertainment precincts and by destroying the number of people that are coming to a venue. That is their objective.”
The panel was also quick to point out that not only were the lockout laws having an effect on their businesses, but the increasing amount of compliance was also taking its toll.
“There is no forgiveness, there is no give in what you can do and what you can’t do. Every conversation, every meeting centres around ‘compliance, compliance, compliance’ and it also doesn’t help that every weekend there is a multitude of officers literally parked on your front door questioning every single act,” said Cheung.
With the general consensus being that most likely the lockout laws are here to stay, the operators discussed how their businesses have had to adapt. Stephens suggested that Kings Cross Hotel has now placed more emphasis on weekday and week night, rather than just on Friday and Saturday nights, and focusing on food as the main revenue stream, and introducing different entertainment options.
“We are seeing a slight improvement from the worst of it in restructuring that business model. But in saying that, we’ll never get back to where we were before [the lockouts].”
As such a prevalent issue in the industry, the lockouts and compliance were brought up in several other sessions, with Angela Gallagher, Justine Baker and Arthur Laundy also speaking out on the “draconian measures”.
Cheung summed up the effect of the lockouts quite succinctly: “A decline in revenue with an increased cost to manage compliance – effectively that is the impact of lockouts.”