ACROSS: Europe has been hit hard by Covid-19; have you found that one of the territories Atterbury Europe operates in has been more affected than the others, in terms of restrictions and regulations imposed on the populations?
VLAD VALCEA: Measures in Romania and Cyprus have been quite strict since a state of emergency was declared around mid-March in both countries, followed by nationwide lockdowns, curfews and out-of-home travelling restrictions. Shopping malls in Romania reopened on June 15 and in Cyprus on June 9. On the other hand, shopping malls in Serbia were allowed to reopen much quicker since May 8, which was positively received by everyone.
ACROSS: How has that impacted on Atterbury Europe’s operations and what has been the strategy to deal with this reality?
VALCEA: I believe operations were impacted the same as for all our peers across Europe. We had to keep shopping malls running at a minimum in order to allow the essential services/tenants to trade and the office towers to be accessible, in accordance with the local laws. Meanwhile, our mall staff had limited their presence in the malls to critical situations, but otherwise everyone else has been working from home and relying on daily chains of video conferences to deal with tasks and issues arising, as travel across countries and cities has obviously been inexistent. I believe that I speak on behalf of everyone in saying that the past couple of months have been incredibly hectic and that working from home has taken on a different dimension, with both pluses and minuses.
ACROSS: Can you outline the different approaches you have had to adopt in your dealings with local suppliers/tenants/partners in the different territories in order to accommodate the legal requirements?
VALCEA: Health and safety measures were the priorities at the forefront of our reopening strategies, focusing on our staff, our mall customers, our tenants and our contractors too. Creating safe and appropriate environments for all stakeholders and communicating this accordingly helps us all recover to normality sooner rather than later.
Certain general rules and legal requirements are similar across the countries, such as social distancing (ranging between 1.5 and 2 meters), the installation of hand sanitizers at the building entrances and PPE for staff members who are in constant contact with the public (such as facemasks and gloves for info points, cleaning, security and in-store staff). In addition to that, in Romania and Cyprus we have taken the initiative to implement body temperature check-ups, either through the use of thermal cameras or digital thermometers, and furthermore to provide optional PPE for customers entering our malls. Social distancing rules, together with basic sanitation and health guidelines, are being communicated to customers across all countries through all our platforms and tools, including navigation and signaling materials throughout the common areas.
ACROSS: What measures have you put in place to handle tenants unable to operate in malls that were closed by government decree?
VALCEA: These measures are being dealt with differently in each country, depending on several local factors. However, Atterbury Europe’s general approach in relation to tenants has been one of solidarity, support and cooperation across all fronts, without trying to pass the blame during this completely unexpected crisis that has affected us all in ways we never imagined.
ACROSS: How many different malls were affected in total?
VALCEA: All nine shopping malls across our European portfolio were closed, except for the hyper/supermarkets, essential services and stores with direct street access that were eventually allowed to reopen first about a month ago. In the meantime, all seven office buildings across the countries were open and operational for the use of tenants in line with their internal policies.
ACROSS: Is there clarity yet on when development operations will be able to resume in their respective territories?
VALCEA: Measures on construction activities have been relaxed since early May in all three countries and therefore allowed works to return to normal, despite some difficulties still existing at the borders concerning delayed deliveries of materials and the impossibility of foreign workers to re-enter into the countries. Nonetheless, lifting restrictions for construction sites has positively influenced our ongoing developments in Iulius Town Timisoara and BEO Mall Belgrade, which is due to open on June 25, 2020.