By Adam Raphael
‘If we are going to have to operate like a hospital and give second-rate service, we will remain shut. Guests do not want to come away to a sanatorium.’ A tough, not untypical comment. But the good news from our selected hotels is that a clear majority (58%) intend to open as soon as the government allows them to do so. Only 6% say they will stay shut.
The Guide’s survey of its hotels and readers gives a mixed picture of the hard-hit hospitality industry. Hoteliers overwhelmingly acknowledge that they will have to reassure potential guests about hygiene and other safety measures. Staggered mealtimes and enhanced cleaning and disinfecting regimes are being planned. More than three quarters say they intend to offer hand sanitizers at check-in. At the same time, there is irritation with the government’s on/off health messages. One hotelier commented: ‘Stay at Home does not help hospitality at all. Start being positive and say that for the majority of the population it is safe to go out into the wider community.’ Another hotelier pointed out: ‘There is no point in a small country house hotel having perspex screens and barriers during check in and then the receptionist serving guests pre-dinner drinks in the lounge before dinner.’ There is also frustration: ‘We would like to be able to confirm all our staff are COVID-19 free, but until tests are available we cannot do this.’
Nearly half of Guide readers (48%) in our survey say they will book as soon as hotels are open. Measures that would make them feel safer include two-metre separation between dining tables (50%) and confirmation that other guests are Covid free (48%). ‘We’re all longing to get back to being able to stay away.’ noted one reader who added: ‘don’t underestimate the pent-up frustration around, and the deep sympathy for people whose lovely businesses have been dealt a terrible blow. Let’s hope that hotels can be allowed to open soon and we can be treated as adults and left to make our own minds up instead of being treated as tiny children who have to be locked-up.’ That is a view echoed by others: ‘Follow Sweden’s example and get on with life’ advised one reader. And another put it even more forcefully: ‘Far too much nonsense about this, in 1968/69 30,000 died of Asian flu, adjust for a 40% larger population now = 42,000. How many hotels closed in 68/69?’
Other readers are understandably more cautious: ‘We are both in our 70’s and as much as we would like to plan and look forward to a holiday we do not think it would be wise until things have become more stable and safe, even if that means having no holidays at all.’ The need for reassurance is common: ‘As a guest I would want to know that the hotel is taking all reasonable precautions; the staff have all been screened and cleared; standards of hygiene are high and communal areas, such as dining rooms, allow plenty of space for social distancing.’ But as hoteliers have noted, over the top measures are off-putting. ‘The country house hotel experience always reminds me of visiting someone’s home which is what I liked’ noted one reader who added: ‘gloves, visors and social distancing would only remind me that I might as well be in a care home.’
To end on an optimistic note. A boom in domestic tourism may be only a few months away. More than half of the Guide’s readers who responded to the survey say they are unlikely to holiday abroad in the coming year. This proportion will have dramatically increased following the government’s announcement that airline passengers will have to self-quarantine for 14 days when they return to the UK. A big increase in staycations, weekend breaks, seaside weeks—call it what you will– is therefore on the cards. Guide readers are already planning their next holiday: ‘As a nurse working over 35 hours a week, I am really looking forward to a nice break away.’
Lastly, I would like to mention the initiative of Nick Dent, who owns three of the Guide’s selected hotels, Shieldaig Lodge, Widbrook Grange and Forss House. He has launched a Crowdfunder campaign, Care 4 Carers. Already more than £20,000 has been donated since it went live a few days ago. For every £100 donated, a carer or caring team will be given a hotel voucher for £150, made up of a 25% top-up from participating hotels plus 25% gift aid. Nick says: ‘By pairing hotels with public support, the hospitality industry can reward far more carers.’