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Businesses brace for change in consumer behaviour amid COVID-19 

Local businesses that rely on a high volume of traffic to support their earnings say they expect a mixed impact on their operations as a result of the spreading coronavirus (COVID-19).

Head of Knutsford Express Oliver Townsend told Loop News that the rate of travel among customers has somewhat declined.

Nonetheless, the company is reassuring commuters that it has ramped up its COVID-19 response.

“We have seen somewhat of a decline in passenger travel probably due to a reduction in overseas travel,” Townsend said.

Knutsford Express is a luxury passenger and courier transportation company with scheduled service from locations on the north and south coasts including connections to Portland, St Mary and Negril.

It also facilitates arrival and departures from the islands major airports by connecting travellers from the island’s interior.

Director of Kntusford Express

In response to confirmed cases of coronavirus on the island, Townsend said it Kuntsford Express making every effort to ensure customers’ health and safety by heightening its cleaning procedures for both coaches and coach stations.

Jamaica’s Ministry of Health and Wellness confirmed eight cases of the coronavirus on the island, up to Friday late afternoon.

“We have boosted our overnight and between trips cleaning procedures for our coaches. We are doing more frequent cleaning of our coach stations.  We have included the use of hospital-grade disinfectant as part of the sanitizing of our coaches and coach stations,” Townsend explained.

The company has also relaxed its current “date change policy” to accommodate persons who may want to postpone their travel to a later date.

As such all date change fees will be waived until further notice.

Executive Chairman of Norbrook Equity, Khary Robinson said the impact on his group of companies will be varied.

Norbrook Equity operates businesses including 24-hour gym chain, Express Fitness, which has nine locations islandwide.

As is the case with any location-based provider, if fewer people leave home, then Express Fitness would be impacted, Robinson said.

Executive Chairman of Norbrook Equity Partners, Khary Robinson

Nonetheless, Robinson said he is continuing with expansion plans for Express Fitness.

“We are still building additional gyms and programmes because, while coronavirus is temporary, the need for effective health and wellness solutions is permanent,” Robinson told Loop News.

He added: “If anything at all, this pandemic will reiterate the need that our bodies are impacted by many things and being fit and healthy prevents many of those.”

Notwithstanding, Robinson said the company is doing its part to “keep the virus out of our clubs”.

“We’ve ramped up our cleaning and sanitation efforts in each club and have installed hand santizer dispensers within easy reach of everyone who uses our locations.”

This is a similar line taken by the highly trafficked branches of National Commercial Bank (NCB) where CEO Septimus ‘Bob’ Blake said: “We have strengthened our cleaning programme at all our locations paying particular attention to frequently touched surfaces.”

NCB operates approximately 40 branches across the island.

Head of NCB Bank Jamaica Septimus ‘Bob’ Blake

Blake said all locations will be equipped with all-day janitorial staff to assist with the continuous sanitizing of high trafficked areas

“As far as possible, we are taking steps to implement measures recommended by the Ministry of Health over the next few days. We encourage you to use our online banking platform and the mobile banking app where possible. For customers who need to visit our branches, our employees are available to serve you in the usual manner,” he said on Thursday.

Robinson of Norbrook Equity said subsidiary Mailpac Limited, a logistics and package delivery service is benefitting from a change in behaviour among Jamaicans.

Robinson outlined that Mailpac has already seen “a significant jump given that it solves the issue of people staying home and still acquiring what they need. This is especially true for Mailpac Local, which allows people to shop PriceSmart and HiLo online.”

National Ice Limited, another subsidiary may have a different fate in the short term, he noted.

Robinson said results may be mixed “because some sectors will need less and some more. For example, with events down, we can expect to serve less ice to that sector. But to our retail clients who are enabling people to stock up for the quarantine period, we will sell more. So, that one will remain to be seen.”

Also under Norbrook’s Equity portfolio, car rental company Hertz – will be impacted by any depression in tourism.

The travel industry has taken a hit globally, with more people opting to stay home instead of taking holidays and road trips, Robinson noted.

Gary Matalon, chairman of KLE Limited

Meanwhile, chairman of KLE Limited, Gary Matalon, said restaurant chain  Usain Bolts Tracks and Records might become impacted if customer behaviour changes.

He said, “We suspect consumer behaviour to change as people are concerned and as this unfortunate crisis develops.  Businesses and industries stand to be affected greatly… the whole country, the nation.  We definitely don’t stand alone.”

Speaking of how businesses, in general, should respond, he said: “If we diligently adhere to preventative measures we can limit the negative impact.”

Matalon noted that “at Usain Bolts Tracks and Records we have increased cleaning and sanitizing frequency… hand washing of our teams… put sanitizer dispensers in place for our customers. All in an effort to lower to risks and negative impact. We continue to train, educate and monitor our team on a daily basis.”

He concluded, “We all have to batten down for tough times ahead. The entire economy will be affected. Tracks will continue to serve our customers with our usual service and quality standards in a clean environment with all preventative measures possible implemented”.