Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A loophole worth expanding...

Guatemala’s government may have the courage and conviction to act even more drastically than its European counterparts. What it won’t have is the budget for the follow up: stimulus packages like the £300bn announced today by the UK Chancellor.  It should also be doubted whether lenders here will be offering any payment ‘holidays’. 

Antigua has some unique issues even within the context of the country around it. There’s a double squeeze, from the local ‘state of emergency’, but also from the condition of the rest of the world,  which has effectively turned off the tourism tap. 

This is a town with a population  of around 30K with something like 250+ (fairly substantial) businesses serving food and drink. For at least two weeks, only those with takeaway or home delivery options are going to remain open. 

Next door President Bukele has had an interesting and possibly helpful idea. He’s contracting some of El Salvador’s idle kitchens to prepare meals for the needy. In the US some restaurants have started to do something similar off their own bat, but my sense is that here, some sort of collaboration between the public and private sectors may work best. 

Giammattei left open the loophole of ‘servicio a domicilio’ and a range of local food operations, such as Joe's Grill and Hugo’s Ceviches, have spontaneously developed this capability. 

Yet many restaurants won’t be able to do this cost effectively on their own. This is where ready-made aggregators like Uber Eats may come in handy. 

The thought I had today was that the Mayor could work either alone or with a firm like Uber to set up a home delivery network, where participating restaurants would be open for 2 or 3 days a week, allowing a greater number to potentially do so in an economically-viable manner. (A handful on Mondays, another group Tuesdays and so on.) 

At present only a small proportion of Antigua’s restaurants will remain open. A system like this would spread the somewhat limited opportunity that the Guatemalan state has left open. 

Of course, you may imagine that the current situation will only last a couple of weeks and that none of this would be worth the trouble, or indeed that any sort of decisive decision-taking is undermined by uncertainty right now. 

There are other potential hiccups. 

A given proportion of restaurants in Antigua don't really cater to the slightly conservative palates of panza verdes and in all honesty, some of these are probably going to have to remain closed for most of the remainder of 2020. When the process of recovery gets under way, the Antigueños I know are likely to focus on patronising businesses they understand to be local, lo suyo

And eventually, the pandemic will tend to interrupt food supplies, such as those prawns so vital to Hugo's. In which case, the state might even start asking itself why Antigua needs so many food outlets with significant levels of duplication. 

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