What Happened at Club Forum: Unpacking the Greatest Challenges for Clubs in 2020

This year, the HFTP Club Forum served as an invaluable opportunity for clubs across the United States to virtually come together and discuss the challenges that have unfolded throughout the course of this year, how they are planning ahead for 2021, and what they think the future will look like for this segment of the hospitality industry. 

This is precisely why the Club Forum was created three years ago. It is HFTP’s annual roundtable event designed to give club professionals the chance to connect with industry peers, share ideas and discuss club-related challenges in a group setting.  

Anticipating a Conservative First Six Months of 2021 

For many of America’s clubs, the new budget year began on October 1 or around this time of the year. Club Forum participants reported similar assumptions and game plans heading into their new budget year.  

  • Clubs assume another full year of Covid-19 restrictions.  
  • They have removed most of their third-party events, a fairly standard move during the pandemic. Some clubs have self-imposed additional restrictions, including no outside guests until further notice. 
  • Clubs also assume that the first months of the new year will be worse than the past six months due to the colder, winter weather. One club anticipates partial winter closures during the week to offset expected losses. Others are strategically planning shutdowns to accomplish large renovation projects. 
  • More than half of attending clubs said they have a pandemic response plan in place. These documents vary in policy and procedure, but generally seem to include reopening procedures, testing protocols, temperature taking practices, confirmed case procedures and travel policies. 
  • Many clubs had to scale back on employees and amenities to mitigate expenses. When businesses were ready to reopen, some employees did not want to return to work due to the boosted unemployment compensation. Clubs are also finding it difficult to recruit new employees, due to J1 and H2B visa and associated housing challenges. Many clubs are offering financial bonuses to employees who have had to report to work during this time. 
  • Clubs are also experiencing a large financial impact from implementing new cleaning solutions. 

The participants also discussed the various trends that have emerged during this turbulent time. 

  • Golf revenue has increased significantly for country clubs that provide the sport, as well as à la carte F&B options. Other clubs reported a substantial increase in demand for tennis lessons. 
  • Clubs are overutilizing their outdoor decks and patios to facilitate higher demands for outside dining and social distancing. 
  • Many clubs reported substantial membership growth, and dues revenue is expected to be on par or higher than in 2020. 
  • Where country clubs are reporting membership gains, city clubs are trending losses in membership. City clubs are getting creative when it comes to engaging their members. Activities are migrating to Zoom such as virtual yoga, wine tastings and cooking classes. They are also gearing up for in-person activities to resume with limitations. 

Ultimately, clubs must recognize that Covid-19 is enduring, accelerating change, and requires businesses to be proactive and responsive to the new demands that are taking place. 

Operating in a Pandemic: When in doubt, do what a reasonably prudent person would do in similar circumstances. 

Legal club expert Brad Steele, J.D. of Private Club Consultants presented a range of legal issues that clubs must consider as they operate in the age of Covid-19 in order to minimize liability and promote the health and safety of their members and staff. 

  • Understand and follow the requirements issued at all levels of government. Local and state health department guidelines should be considered as law. Comply with local, state, OSHA and CDC guidelines to help avoid negligence. 
  • Develop a comprehensive Covid-19 Preparedness and Response Plan. Determine the level of risk for each individual worker, provide health screenings, maintain social distancing, require face masks and continue to monitor local, state and federal health departments for updated guidance. 
  • Implement basic infection prevention measures and promote them frequently. These could include frequent handwashing, providing hand sanitation stations, promoting basic hygiene practices, maintaining routine cleaning and instituting contact tracing measures. 
  • Develop policies and procedures to prevent an outbreak and keep the club healthy. Educate workers on Covid-19 symptoms, encourage them to self-monitor, report symptoms and stay home if they feel sick. 
  • According to CDC guidelines: Within 24 hours of being notified of a positive result, clubs should notify staff and members of possible exposure at the club. Those exposed should also quarantine for 14 days. 
  • Those who do not comply with guidelines risk receiving an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) violation under its General Duty Clause –29 USC 654(a). This clause requires an employer to “furnish each worker employment and a workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” 

When in doubt: always do what a reasonably prudent person would do in similar circumstances.

Finally, thank you to all the clubs who attended this year’s virtual, complimentary Club Forum and shared their ideas, concerns and experiences. Together, clubs can help each other learn new ways to overcome the challenges brought on by the pandemic. 

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About the Author: Briana Gilmore