The recovery in Australia’s hospitality industry is picking up as consumers steadily increase spending in restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs and clubs amid growing comfort with COVID-safe practices and a relaxation of restrictions, according to the head of CommBank’s newly established Major Client Group, Chris Williams.

The hospitality industry was one of the hardest-hit economic sectors as Australians were asked to stay at home during nationwide lockdowns in March and April 2020. The path to recovery has at times been hampered by COVID flare-ups and restrictions on movement between states.

But a year on from the nationwide lockdown, the success of state and federal government pandemic management measures has ushered a boom in domestic tourism, propelling a recovery across the hospitality sector, and an uplift in business lending.

“Eating and drinking out is making a good recovery, particularly in regional areas, but it is still sensitive to any periods of restrictions and lockdowns,” Mr Williams said.

“Our hospitality sector has certainly had a tough 12 months but I’m optimistic about the outlook and the opportunities that will come from the economic recovery that is underway. As restrictions ease, we’ve seen many of our corporate customers in the sector working very hard to ensure they can hit the ground running.”

The creation of the Major Client Group, which is focused on large corporate customers across key sectors of the economy marked an increase in CBA’s support for the industry. Typical clients have an annual turnover of more than $150 million, are the bedrock of the economy and support Australian jobs.

In a signal of this continued support, CBA recently extended its 22-year banking relationship with one of Sydney’s most iconic hospitality companies, Merivale, refinancing the company’s existing debt arrangements, and the provision of further funding commitments for its growth plans in 2021 and beyond.

“We recognise Merivale is a leader in Australian hospitality, it’s a high-quality and proven Australian business. We have supported Merivale for more than two decades and we’re proud to be part of the next phase of its growth,” Mr Williams said.

CBA has been Merivale’s main bank since 1998 and Merivale CEO, Justin Hemmes, said his strong relationship with the bank has played an important part in the expansion of his business.

“CBA first supported Merivale back in 1998, when I took on the ambitious Establishment project [in George Street, Sydney], and their continued support highlights the bank’s commitment to companies like Merivale and to the hospitality industry in general. They have stood right beside us as we built Merivale into what it is today.

“The team at CBA know and understand our business and the broader sector, and fully appreciate the great opportunities ahead for us,” Mr Hemmes said.

While many businesses have seen new opportunities, Mr Williams said there is still uncertainty for some, and CBA is continuing to support its customers through these challenges.

“Our ongoing support of Australian businesses is so important – we’ve led the way in offering coronavirus support measures for our customers and a large portion of the businesses doing it tough have been in the hospitality sector – and we’ll continue to back them as activity picks up,” Mr Williams said.