When children go camping they like to sit around a log fire at night telling ghost stories. They enjoy getting frightened. Fear breeds fear, however, and sometimes fantasy becomes fact and the dark beast that someone said they'd glimpsed in the woods that afternoon suddenly becomes real to everyone.
Economic downturn can be like that beast.
There was rumour of a sighting recently. Apparently, London hotels are beginning to report that occupancies are down on last year (Caterer, 30 July, page 14). This may be true, but it is due to specific reasons and not the line that runs, "business has been booming for so long, it can't possibly be sustained", because it can. Repeating this message eventually leads to aself-fulfilling ghost story. Eventually everyone believes in the dark beast.
It is the kind of dangerous collective thinking that allows economic communities the world over to talk themselves into a slump. It's caused by lack of confidence, and the more times it happens the more likely it is to happen again.
In London, media attention has been focused recently on the moves and machinations of one or two big-name chefs operating on the capital's restaurant stage. So what's new?
Actually, nothing is new about this. The story of Gordon Ramsay's move from Aubergine or Marcus Wareing's search for a restaurant of his own is the kind of stuff that national newspapers have been lapping up and dishing out for a decade or more. Why? Because there is - and continues to be - a huge public interest in eating out.
If that interest is as strong now as it was a year ago - and statistical facts support this theory - where is the economic downturn?
John Waples, writing in the Sunday Times (2 August), draws attention to recent activity in the restaurant world that suggests a continuing buoyancy. Belgo's bid for the Ivy and Le Caprice, for example; or talk of Marco Pierre White's possible share flotation next year; the rise and rise of Groupe Chez Gérard; and the upward surge of Pizza Express stock - all are indications that restaurants remain safe territory for City analysts.
It should be the same for hotels. It is inevitable that the London boom is going to flatten out in time, if for no other reason than a continuing rise in profits depends, eventually, on expansion and in London that is virtually impossible. A slight blip in occupancy caused by a slight dip in tourist rates caused by a strong pound caused by a strong economy should not put investors off the sector.
Fear feeds on fear. And fear breeds fear. There's still a lot to be cheerful about. Let's not forget it.
Caterer & Hotelkeeper