Friday, March 20, 2020

Ecosystem Invaders

Our local economy is currently being held up by two kinds of workers. Those who cannot afford not to take a risk and those being paid by people hiding at home to take a risk on their behalf. 

The problem I still have with Giamattei is the inexactness of his language.  For example, when he said that citizens of Europe could no longer enter the country, who did he mean precisely? When he apparently extended the ban to my own nation, he referred to it as ‘Inglaterra’. And who exactly is Doña Chonita?

So, when he said restaurants with a take-away or pickup capability could continue to operate, I really don’t think he meant that every Tom, Dick and Harry in Antigua could immediately start trying to flog their stuff to your doorstep. 

A city that had been in danger of turning into the country’s premier open air shopping mall, could now be characterised as a giant drive-thru. In truth I haven’t been into town for over a week, but I have visions of streets that are quiet but for the rattle of scooters and their confused riders. 

Aside from the obvious health and hygiene issues thrown up by this poorly-coordinated outbreak of home delivery offerings, economic sense is also wanting. 

If I were a business owner here who had carefully developed and cultivated a delivery service over several years, I’d be resenting most of this new-fangled competition, largely because it is essentially unfair competition: hardly anybody can be doing this in a cost-effective manner, even if regulations are being waived. Some are not even restaurants by vocation. I saw an offering today for ‘healthy food to your door’ from one of the gyms. 

The once illustrious Welten has started offering chiles rellenos and paches. Surely an instance where Doña Chonita is to be preferred?

Some of the newcomers will be making new friends, others may actually be alienating people. It’s a promotional threat as well as opportunity. I have to say that the one time we used Uber Eats here it was not a huge success. For some reason the app makes use of a different mapping system to the parent and as a result I was unable to pinpoint the precise location of my house and ended up chasing a man who looked like a terrorist with a bomb on his back all around the village. The food itself arrived in poor condition and incomplete. 

Perhaps the President should place a moratorium on Tripadvisor reviews for the duration of the crisis.

The expert advice released in the UK today is that social distancing will need to continue for the duration of this lost year. It’s not natural behaviour in Guatemala, but I think it is safe to assume that in the absence of tourism, the future for a proportion of Antigua’s eateries, many of which were already in effect charging customers for the empty tables around them, is bleak. Those that were already good at delivery and those that find themselves with that combination of an adeptness for it and an offer that appeals to locals, will possibly make it through to 2021.

Right now though, the need for coordination/aggregation that I wrote of the other day is more than apparent. I’m reminded of an incident that occurred back in the mid 90s when we had recently started our company and there were about a dozen of us working out of an elegant if crotchety Queen Anne-era house in Bloomsbury. 

Someone flagged up the arrival on the scene of a novel online offering that promised to deliver small ‘impulse’ retail items directly to your desk. Around half of us decided to order a CD immediately...and separately, just to see what would happen.

Sure enough, courier after courier was soon ringing the doorbell. Needless to say, this company was gone long before the dotcom crash took out most of the rest of their like. 

Yesterday I overheard one gringo ‘entrepreneur’ asserting rather buoyantly that business was ‘bouncing along’. Rather like one of those bombs dropped by the dam-busters I suspect. 

Meanwhile, I’ve spotted a few novel ecosystem-invaders floating around my area like sharks on the prowl: not motorcycle couriers, but the vans of security companies. On the off chance perhaps that some of the stay-at-homers are casting their thoughts ahead to the social dislocation to come. 

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