Our Government has asked us to stand by our staff, and whilst I completely agree with the sentiment behind the statement I also completely understand why the hospitality industry has struggled to do exactly that.
For instance, I spoke to one hotel director who had sent staff home but had to call them back in to help manage cancellations and postponements in the meetings and events office. Of course, it is better to be busy than not, but it’s devastating to be helpless as revenues flood through fingers.
Sadly, I have now had it confirmed that some hotels in London and the UK are to close their doors. Those that are part of a chain, especially those in larger towns and cities can potentially take those decisions more easily than others. To shut some within the brand but to leave one or two hotels open makes a lot of sense, but not many hotels have the luxury of a partner property in close enough proximity.
I have spoken to hoteliers who have calculated that it is still cost effective to stay open even if occupancy is minimal. And occupancy is as low as it has ever been. Lower than we ever thought possible.
The vast majority of hotels are closing public bars and restaurants and only opening to serve food and drinks to their residents. Meeting and events space are echoing with silence. Most hotels seem to be continuing to keep the bedrooms functioning until they are instructed to do something different by the Government. However, they are often running on a skeleton staff.
Enterprising casual dining operators are now fully embracing home delivery – a trend that was gathering pace even before this dreadful threat to health. Hoteliers are looking for alternative use for their empty bedrooms. Over a month ago LGH’s Holiday Inn near Heathrow hit the headlines as the Government commandeered it for possible use as a quarantine zone for people entering the country who may have been exposed to the coronavirus. Rob Paterson of Best Western was one of the first to make a public announcement to offer hotel rooms to the NHS. There are of course also high profile hoteliers like Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs who are offering their rooms up to the NHS while valiantly keeping on their staff.
Other city centre properties are hoping to house key workers to enable critical workers to minimise their travel.
Despite an overwhelming sense of gloom for the industry, there are glimmers of hope. One area of growth has even been reported to me! Golfers who have had their European trips to Spain and Portugal cancelled are now booking UK trips. I guess it is easier to keep your social distance on a golf course, while also staying active – an important way to maintain your health.
Also positive and uplifting is this picture of IHG hotels across Europe a - shining the light of solidarity last night. Thank you IHG!
At HOSPA, our communication channels are open. So do please keep talking, keep letting HOSPA know your plans, your fears and your hopes. We are here to help.