How else could I start other than by applauding our chancellor Rishi Sunak on July’s mini-budget? The 5% VAT, the Eat out To Help Out scheme, and the furlough/job retention bonus were all welcomed with excitement and great relief. It won’t be enough to save every business, of course, but it is perhaps more than we anticipated. My personal hope is that the spotlight on hospitality might help the wider British public appreciate how hard the sector has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and encourage them to offer their support to local coffee shops, pubs, and restaurants, as well as hotels and other accommodation providers who lie further afield.
Those of us closely involved have always understood the low margins alongside the hard work that goes into delivering the best experiences. Perhaps now there will be a greater appreciation of the industry as a result of the lockdown. As hospitality professionals, we can show our own support in various ways, as we also look to ‘give something back’, whether through a donation to the wonderful charities (HOSPA supports Hospitality Action, Springboard, Only a Pavement Away and Room to Reward – all of whom continue to do amazing work) or by indulging in some extra delights delivered by hospitality venues to help keep revenues flowing. This is something I did myself recently, affording myself a trip down memory lane in the process. My career in hospitality started at The Castle Hotel in Taunton. During school holidays I would work as a waitress in its Michelin starred dining room, alongside the late chefs Chris Oakes and Gary Rhodes. It’s safe to say it wasn’t a bad introduction to the world of hotels! A little later in my career, having studied for a degree in hospitality (despite being advised at the time I’d be better off learning on the job!) and embarked on a DeVere Management training programme incorporating various departments, I ended up back at The Castle running the front desk.
Fast forward to the present day and just a couple of weeks ago I visited Taunton to see my mother, but, given social distancing, my family couldn’t stay with her as we would normally have done. So, I grasped the opportunity to fulfill a long-held dream and in the process put some money back into the industry that has given me my career, reserving two rooms at the Castle Hotel. I’d never actually slept in the hotel before and it didn’t disappoint. Despite social distancing requirements and not all the public areas being fully open, it was a wonderful experience nonetheless, which also gave me a first-hand insight into the precautionary measures that I have talked about so much and that hotels have now implemented. There were one-way systems in place, our keys – they still have the traditional metal keys – were left in the room, a clear plastic screen protected the reception staff, there were hand sanitiser dispensers everywhere, a digital guest directory accessed via a QR code, single use menus plated breakfasts at a pre-agreed time and so on.
Much had changed, but it was all delivered with unfailing charm, grace and a sense of tradition, which meant that, despite the restrictions, the principles of hospitality had remained untouched. The warm welcome, the large comfortable rooms and beds, the convenient location and the views of the gardens and local hills were all as I remembered. The Castle Hotel was a real treat that lived up to expectations, and I hope that going forward, this will be the experience that most will encounter as part of the new normal. Fundamentally, hospitality’s offering hasn’t changed, it’s just been adapted and is still as enjoyable and relaxing as it’s ever been. This is something that we shouldn’t lose sight of. Our contribution to wider society is as valuable as it’s ever been and it’s something that we should remember as we look to move forward and rebuild.