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#003 - Hospitality Meets Kate Nicholls - The Trade Association CEO
Episode 315th April 2020 • Hospitality Meets... with Phil Street • Phil Street
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Hospitality Meets... with Phil Street is a new podcast for the hospitality industry.  Join Phil each week as he hosts a new guest in a light-hearted talk about their journey and story to date.

Back in the early 2020's before Covid-19 gripped the world, we met Kate Nicholls who very kindly gave us the time to share her story and the sorts of things she gets involved with.

Obviously, the landscape is a little different since we recorded this on 27th February 2020, but the message is still the same.  Kate, and UK Hospitality, continue to fight the corner of the greatest industry on earth.


https://www.ukhospitality.org.uk/


 



This podcast uses the following third-party services for analysis:

Podcorn - https://podcorn.com/privacy
Chartable - https://chartable.com/privacy

Transcripts

Phil Street:

Welcome to hospitality meets with me Phil street where we take a light hearted look into the stories and individuals that make up the wonderful world of hospitality. Today's guest is the incredible Kate Nichols, CEO of UK, hospitality and the person who gives this industry his voice coming up on today's show. Kate outlines her three point strategy for success.

Kate Nicholls:

It's it's strategic, it's tactical, and then it's out and out street fighting,

Phil Street:

Phil gets far too philosophical

Phil Street:

When all's said and done experience is actually really all there is.

Phil Street:

And we learn that policy wonk is an actual term,

Kate Nicholls:

And could have ended up being more policy wonk.

Phil Street:

Right. Is that the official term?

Kate Nicholls:

Yes it is

Phil Street:

All that and a whole lot more as we caught up with kids in the early 2020s, a few weeks before COVID-19 started playing havoc with us all. Enjoy.

Phil Street:

Well, hello, Good day, and welcome to another podcast with me, your host Phillip Street. And today I am a little bit giddy about having with me, something of a stalwart of the industry. delighted to welcome Kate Nicholls.

Kate Nicholls:

Thank you for having me here today.

Phil Street:

You're very, very welcome. I think you're actually having me here today,

Kate Nicholls:

You are in our office yes

Phil Street:

But no, thank you very much for spending some time with us today. So maybe before we get into any kind of great depths, you could kick us off all the way back to the beginning of your career. And tell us how you got into doing what you're doing from the very beginning.

Kate Nicholls:

Okay, well, like so many people. My first taste of work was working in hospitality, helping out in a kitchen, pot washing and then doing a little bit of waitressing and then post University having had that as a sort of part time job. I went into politics, I was a frustrated journalist, but I went into politics, and did a three year stint in the House of Commons in the European

Phil Street:

Right?

Kate Nicholls:

Particularly caramel that's very important. It is hugely important for cocktails, crisps are very important to but beer is critical for a lot of local community. So as a result of that I was lobbied intensively by a number of the big brewers and the public companies in the restaurants who were and food preparation companies, which is how I've managed to combine the two things of

Phil Street:

Yeah. Well, I mean, that's, it sounds like a monstrous job. I've got to be honest

Kate Nicholls:

I think it's the best job in the world.

Phil Street:

Really?

Kate Nicholls:

Yeah. Because I think our industry is so fantastic. So diverse and vibrant. Yeah. And I get to be the face the public face of that industry. So I never have a boring day, because No two days are the same. Because we've got such a diversity of employees, we've got a diversity of operators, we have a large number of entrepreneurs, and I get to deal with all of their issues on a daily

Phil Street:

You've actually totally convinced me. No, absolutely. That sounds amazing. But I you know, I think not to underplay the the work that you do. It's massively important. I think probably Never more so than? Well, I suppose you could say that of any given moment in time, there's always something I'm sure that you have to deal with or or lobby against. But what what was it about this

Kate Nicholls:

Well, I think from, from what I described earlier on, it kind of happened to me, I fell into a lot of the opportunities that that have had, and I've made the most of it, but it does mean that I can combine those passions. And what I really like about hospitality, as I say, is, is the diversity but you know, the challenge of heading up and merging the two organisations was was

Phil Street:

Yeah.

Kate Nicholls:

And therefore it's largely invisible. And what it does for the community is largely invisible. So being able to bring that to life for people and have lots of politicians say, you know, never realised it was so big never realised how much good it did didn't know how much tax we contribute

Phil Street:

Right

Kate Nicholls:

So it's 130 billion pound industry. 30 billion of that is export earnings, because it's spend that foreign tourists make while they're in the country. So you know, nobody thinks about tourism as an exporter, but that brings it to life, we pay 40 billion pounds worth of tax each year to the government. So that's the entire social care budget, or the defence budget or the Brexit

Phil Street:

Yeah. Okay. Can you debunk a myth straight away?

Kate Nicholls:

Yes.

Phil Street:

Do politicians listen?

Kate Nicholls:

They do. They don't always hear

Phil Street:

A political answer.

Kate Nicholls:

And they don't always act. But I think politicians, politicians have to be across so many subjects, yeah, and aware of so many issues, and they have a big postback that comes in that's driven by their constituents. So you know, trying to find a way that brings something to life for them and says, This is how I can help you achieve what you want to do at your local level. That's what

Phil Street:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, I suppose therefore, you need a great deal of empathy for the situation.

Kate Nicholls:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I studied English literature, right. And you quite often get lots of people who say, What on earth do you study English for? And why do people bother with those liberal arts degrees, but actually, what it teaches you is for three years, you are looking at character motivation, hidden meanings behind their words, you're having to put yourself in another

Phil Street:

Yeah. That's brilliant. That's a really good I've never thought of that actually, as a method for that particular kind of qualification. Yeah, that serves you immensely. Well, for this line of work

Kate Nicholls:

To be honest, neither had I until you saw Dominic Cummings. He's the Prime Minister's right hand man came out with his blog post about recruiting weirdos and misfits for Downing Street, which which I agree they need better diversity. But he said, I don't want typical Oxbridge English, English literature graduates coming to apply. On my English literature background and Oxbridge

Phil Street:

Yeah, no, absolutely. So how do you that's, I suppose, looking at it, and breaking it down on a local level to to kind of get a wider message across, I guess, but when those are a bigger issue to tackle for you know an industry wide, and doesn't have never probably been more sore than in the news in the last couple of weeks. But how do you approach that? Because I suppose that's more

Kate Nicholls:

Yes. It's the same kind of principle, because all you're looking at, as I say, is that when when, you know what, what is it they're trying to do? Why are they wanting that message to go out there? And how do you work around it? So the immigration announcement, left most business, most of the business community completely blindsided because the prime minister in the general election

Kate Nicholls:

argument you're into a head to head Yeah. And what you want to be is we're on the same side, let's work this through, it's fine to say, how do we get a solution, and then point out legitimately, where their facts are wrong? And why their suggestions won't work? Yeah, but it's got to be calm. It's got to be rational. It's got to be evidence based,

Phil Street:

and I suppose a little bit collaborative, and its focus as well as your you're not, as you said, not alienating them from there. The argument?

Kate Nicholls:

Yeah.

Phil Street:

I think it's probably a lot of instances whereby the, the shouting at t scenario, where, you know, if you shout and scream at something, you're not going to get ever going to get a collaborative approach to it.

Kate Nicholls:

And also, it's about working out when to expand your political capital. Yeah. So you work with government and you work with individuals to try and help them achieve their goals. And you build up some goodwill and some political capital and they respect you as being evidence based. They know you're going to be critical. But if you shout at everything, or if you shout and it's not

Kate Nicholls:

a customer?

Phil Street:

Yeah.

Kate Nicholls:

And how much more you're going to pay for a pizza or a pint or a cup of coffee.

Phil Street:

Yeah.

Kate Nicholls:

As a result of business rates, national living wage, Brexit, immigration, all of those things. Yeah.

Phil Street:

Yeah. No, really interesting. You can't do this alone, I'm sure.

Kate Nicholls:

Yeah.

Phil Street:

Tell me a little bit more about the organisation as a whole in terms of what what do you actually have going on from a departmental situation? And how does all that come together when you have something that you're all kind of? I don't want to use the word fighting, because that's not really what you're doing. But

Kate Nicholls:

yeah, well, I mean, sometimes it's firefighting. Sometimes. It's crisis management. Yeah. But so we have a fantastic team. And and it isn't just me. I can fire the bullets. And I've got the length of experience to allow me to do all those media hits and interviews and present the arguments. But I need the team to be constructing the arguments. And I'm only as good as the bullets they

Phil Street:

Right. Got you. So the the current, the, I suppose, focus on the immigration situation, we've kind of covered ish. I mean, obviously, there'll be a lot more to talk about that. But that, I suppose is quite a reactive thing, because you don't know that's going to come until it comes out. Yeah. And other situations whereby you're, you're being proactive in the sense that you're there

Kate Nicholls:

yes. I mean, the immigration piece we knew was coming. We'd been proactive in it on it. Because it's been sort of two years in the offing where they were talking about a new white paper, and we knew they would have to do a new immigration system post Brexit. Yeah. That was why there was so much frustration that bubbled over on the day of the announcement and why you had lots of

Kate Nicholls:

hospitality. Yeah, if we do have anything, it tends to be focused on low level people, you know, the sort of messaging is you're bright, and you go to university, you get to do a levels, and then eg University, or you not very good, and therefore, you can go here, yes, what you tend to get going into schools, and obviously, that's a volume. And that's a role that we do play is providing an input,

Phil Street:

Yeah

Kate Nicholls:

We don't talk about that.

Phil Street:

Yeah, I agree.

Kate Nicholls:

Nor do we say, you've done accountancy marketing law. There's head office jobs in all of those. Yeah, you can go and be an accountant in a widget factory that can have much more fun working in hospitality. Yeah. And I think that's also your message. Yeah. Hospitality is a fun industry to work in. It's the most collaborative industry have worked in. Yeah, people are nice and

Phil Street:

Yeah. I've just had a chat this morning with somebody. We're talking exactly the same thing about the diversity of opportunity that's available, as you say, you can become a lawyer, you can become a marketeer a financier. You can't an engineer, even you know, I can't think of another sector that gives you that range of opportunity. And it's not all about serving food and cooking, and

Kate Nicholls:

Yeah, huge, huge. I mean, it's a bit like then few years ago, the army did a campaign where they were trying to change perceptions of the army, and they sort of moved from, you're not going to be a cannon for the foot soldier. But they did the you know, these other different jobs, and there was an all boxes that populated screen and showed you the different roles for an electrician

Phil Street:

absolutely. And it's I think record levels of investment are heading into the country. Yeah. Around that focus, because your investors have recognised that it's an incredibly credible business.

Kate Nicholls:

Yes. And it's one of the few sectors of the economy that is still growing. Yeah. Particularly on the experiential leisure side, and the difference of approach. And that's why the immigration proposals are so frustrating, because the only sector of the economy that you've got in growth is the one that needs people. Yeah. And you can't deliver experiences without people. You

Phil Street:

Yeah. And the investment keeps coming. And that means more opportunity

Phil Street:

Yep.

Kate Nicholls:

more, and a lot of it is foreign investment.

Kate Nicholls:

And it's also investment underpins other broader investment in, in, in community. So again, there was a presentation in hartfordshire, that was looking at attracting a life sciences company, big Life Sciences company to invest in the UK. And they didn't want to invest in hartfordshire, because there weren't enough good quality hotels and restaurants around.

Phil Street:

Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, that I think you put yourself in the shoes of the worldwide population. We're all consumers of hospitality.

Kate Nicholls:

Yeah,

Phil Street:

in some form, at some point, whether you you go to your local restaurant, or whether you you travel endlessly around the world, you're going to be on the end of, of hospitality. And that's the thing for me, that it, this touches all of our lives, yeah, in some form, at some point. And so, is there any more credible industry than that?

Kate Nicholls:

Yeah. And actually, you know, at this point, we've probably reached peak stuff. You know, the, I did a lecture to hospitality undergraduates at the University of West London, and started my lecture by saying, you know, when was the last time you bought something new, not something that was a replacement, or clothes, or a new phone, but something that you'd never had in your

Phil Street:

Yeah,

Kate Nicholls:

you know, that's a replacement for another phone or another computer. But actually, you know, my when, in the 70s, when we had greater affluence and a move in the in the economy, 70s and 80s, people were buying new stuff. For the first time, there were people who'd never bought a television or never bought a fridge or labour saving devices. We've reached peak stuff, people collect

Phil Street:

I think, hospitality plays a massive part in that, that experiential thing, I'd actually argue that we kind of all crave that. But I turned 40, a couple of years ago, and I had a big party, when you're all my mates from all around the world came to say Hello. And I realised that I was kind of a sum of all of them, all of the experiences that I'd had with them. And it made me

Kate Nicholls:

yeah. And intuitive socialising. You know, that that sort of curation of your experience and having helped bringing people together? I think, you know, we live busy lives. Yeah, we don't have an office space. So often where a lot of people who are working freelance or we're working away from a set office, so you need that sense of community. Yeah. And, you know, that's the one

Phil Street:

Yeah. And you can come and work in this industry and experience these experiences.

Kate Nicholls:

Yes.

Phil Street:

There was talking to somebody about the fact that, that they used to an early part of their career, they used to put on events in stadiums. And so you'd have a big band and in a situation it was Pink Floyd, and Pink Floyd, were rehearsing while they were setting up the venue. And you just have to stop and have a moment and think those 12 people in the space and Pink Floyd are playing

Kate Nicholls:

Yeah, there's things that money can't buy really yeah. And and you're getting that as part of your everyday working life. Yeah. As met yesterday, the somebody from from Liverpool Football Club who was talking about Liverpool football clubs ground as a tourist attraction and people going and they have about 350,000 people a day that they can get through Liverpool Football

Phil Street:

yeah Absolutely not. It's just all part of your career.

Kate Nicholls:

Yeah.

Phil Street:

So along your career so far, are there any standout funny or silly things that have happened to you along the way?

Kate Nicholls:

Oh, gosh, probably too many to mention because I'm really clumsy and forever, dropping knocking something over falling up onto stage. And I can't think

Phil Street:

Well, falling onto stage is probably funny enough.

Kate Nicholls:

Yeah

Phil Street:

to be honest.

Kate Nicholls:

Yeah.

Phil Street:

It was just because the you know, the perception is that you have such a serious job.

Kate Nicholls:

And it's such a serious person, but you don't come across. I'm not. No, but I think because people just will see me on stage doing the serious setpiece presentation. Yeah, they always think and they also think I'm frightfully posh. Run. No, I went to us sink comprehensive in the northeast, and I'm the first member of my family at universities, right. You know, I've got working

Phil Street:

Right, but you definitely lost your accent.

Kate Nicholls:

I am not a Geordie.

Phil Street:

Okay,

Kate Nicholls:

I'm a Mackam

Phil Street:

Okay,

Kate Nicholls:

and Durham doesn't have a really strong accent, but it has got quite strong dialect

Phil Street:

Right.

Kate Nicholls:

So if I was to lapse into it, then it would be stronger. I still got my flat vowels still have a bath?

Phil Street:

Very good. Well, my wife's from the north as well. Still baths, although she has recently started transitioning into baaath.

Kate Nicholls:

Oh, no.

Phil Street:

Yeah, I'll have to have a word.

Kate Nicholls:

It's got to be bath.

Phil Street:

Yeah. So what does the next year hold for you? in this organisation

Kate Nicholls:

A really big focus on talent and recruitment. So we were fortunate to get the government to agree to a tourism and hospitality sector deal in June. So the government sets its industrial strategy, right and picks winners basically, Okay, it looks at sectors of the economy that it thinks will be a generator of future economic growth and a career of choice, particularly as we go through

Phil Street:

Right. And where does that start? What's the first ripple in the water to kind of begin not? Because that's what it feels like? It's that's a long process to kind of get to the end. Yeah. result?

Kate Nicholls:

Yeah. I mean, that's going to be sort of three to five years. Yeah, I think. But we had our first meeting, we set up a board that's led by employers. So again, putting employers and operators in the driving seat, say, What is it you want to communicate rather than here's a lot of solutions that are coming from different people, but to careers needs, but they're actually not

Phil Street:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think I guess that's not just about the the graduates that's that's about opening the doors to kind of anybody that wants to come in.

Kate Nicholls:

Yeah. And I think that's where there's two things that we've been very good at as an industry. One is, we tend to be too siloed. So we're contract catering. Or hotels or restaurants or pubs, direct people there. And we then get worried about telling them all about the things. So one of the big frustrations is you get people who go in as hospitality graduates or hospitality,

Phil Street:

Too true. Yeah, well, I mean, that that's kind of the that's a problem in any sector, in any businesses that really that if that's your way of thinking, then you always get, what you've got

Kate Nicholls:

Yeah, and you'll always get that churn unless you do something else. And we've got to keep people retained. And some of that is about taking young people. And then they they can't see the route through or they burn out or they're not interested or they don't like long hours. And giving them an alternative way of working.

Phil Street:

Yeah, absolutely. I think the industry is being good. It's to some extent at looking after it. So when I remember last year when Jamie's unfortunately when he went down, but the outpouring of your please come to us. And there was it was m restaurants, I think that said bought bypass first stage interview, you just come straight to find points of view. And you're and that's

Kate Nicholls:

And equally, you know, when Thomas Cook went under, that was the first time I'd seen the industry working together. And that was partly, I mean, it's a horrible situation to have been in. But it was one of those times that government recognised what we were doing in the industry, because they brought us into those task forces for the first time. They've been battling for years to

Phil Street:

Yeah, yeah, no, absolutely. I suppose it has to start somewhere. And at least, that's your perhaps that that was the catalyst. Yeah. And you're right on the manufacturing sectors and all that sort, your the things that don't immediately look like there would be a crossover. Of course, there's a crossover. There's, there's still a head office function there. There's all of these.

Kate Nicholls:

And that's why I'm quite pleased that we've been the only sector of the economy that has retained a dedicated campaign within DWP, right. So they do hospitality works with us, which is about trying to encourage people to look hospitality, they used to do them across a number of other sectors and sort of have a week long campaign or a month long campaign with now the only sector that

Phil Street:

Yeah, no, absolutely.

Phil Street:

Was there a moment in your career whereby you could have gone a different direction do you think or do you think you were always destined to do this? Oh,

Kate Nicholls:

well, I was I was a frustrated journalist and I had a journalism post degree apprenticeship lined up with my local paper in the northeast. After I left University, and I graduated in 91, which was the first year of the Graduate recession, and they cancelled all the training places and said, Go away and get a year's worth of experience, do something and then come back. Right? We'll

Phil Street:

Right. Is that the official term,

Kate Nicholls:

Yes

Phil Street:

Right. Yeah, it's funny how sometimes the rich tapestry of life I think they call it, your when one door closes, another one opens in,

Kate Nicholls:

which is why I try and tell younger people, and yeah, I've got two daughters, 17 and 14, you know, there is no way you know, what you're going to do. And there are so many jobs, unless you've got somebody in your family who works in that thing. Your appreciation and understanding of what people do as a job is quite limited. When you're at that age, just open your mind. And also, the

Phil Street:

Yeah. Yeah, it's well, simple, simple in theory, but I totally get you I'm 100% on board with that. And I think that there is an awful lot of passion in this industry, which doesn't necessarily get out into the wider world. Yeah. It's not not always the message that people hear. And yet day in, day out, I'm in a fairly luxurious position, because I, I recruit by day. So I meet at

Kate Nicholls:

And usually it isn't, it is a zigzag career that most of us have got. And it is about seizing the opportunities. But for those people who've got that initiative and want to get on and want to do something, or have a thirst for knowledge or experience, opportunities just fall at you in hospitality, because there's companies are relatively small, there's opportunities to do all sorts

Phil Street:

Yeah, absolutely. I will bore you very, very quickly with a short story from my own career, right at the beginning. And I definitely fell into the camp of not really fully knowing what I wanted to do, and wanted to travel, but didn't have any money. So applied to cruise ships. Actually, the Scarlet lady was quite close to my heart when it launched this year, worked for P&O, and just

Kate Nicholls:

Yeah.

Phil Street:

And before I knew it, within six months, I got promoted on the basis of those two things. And that's really all I could put it down to, but you're the sort of talk of low skill and all of that the this week and the last couple of weeks, I would argue that in actual fact, to have the ability to make people feel special is one of the greatest skills that you can ever have. And so it's a

Kate Nicholls:

It is I think there's a mis alignment between qualifications and skills. Yeah. And and we have, we rely on soft skills. And they are that they are things that you can't sit and do as a book learning and you can't have a qualification that endorses you getting it. Yeah. But as I say, you know, most people who are working in hospitality environment, whether they are a waitress

Phil Street:

Yeah, very good. Yep. I never thought about that. Yeah.

Kate Nicholls:

It can't be both.

Phil Street:

No, absolutely.

Kate Nicholls:

And but but that's, that's the sort of statistic and that's the frustration is, you know, you can't get around statistics, we need people. And there aren't enough people in the UK, in certain parts of the labour market to do those jobs. They just physically are not paying our way out of it, train our way out of it. companies doing both of those, all you can do is to breed your way

Phil Street:

Yeah, I'm plus, that's a fairly long term strategy.

Kate Nicholls:

It is. But you know, we've got 200,000 fewer UK born 18 to 24 year olds entering the jobs market this year. That's simply down to what happened in the birth rate in 2000 2002. Yeah. And we don't come out of it for 2030. So it is a physical thing. We've got an incredibly tight labour market, almost full employment, an ageing population, a lot of baby boomers who don't want to work in

Phil Street:

Yeah.

Kate Nicholls:

And the biggest one would be to stop castigating people as low skilled.

Phil Street:

Yeah, absolutely. And that strikes me as a great place to wind it up.

Kate Nicholls:

Thank you

Phil Street:

Kate Nichols. Thank you very much for your time. Thanks for the pleasure to chat and speak again soon.

Kate Nicholls:

Thank you.

Phil Street:

Well, what a great insight that was into the day to day life of the head of a trade body, and yet another demonstration of the diversity of opportunity that exists within hospitality. We hope you're enjoying the shows. And don't forget to hit subscribe and tune in again next week for more stories from hospitality. Thanks for listening.