European GMs discuss COVID-19 luxury hotel challenges
European GMs discuss COVID-19 luxury hotel challenges
28 MAY 2020 8:59 AM

GMs at six luxury hotels in Europe share happenings on the ground in their respective countries and why more unity is needed across the continent.

GLOBAL REPORT—As Europe slowly starts to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis—albeit with strict controls—six GMs from six different European nations acknowledged the additional challenges for luxury hotels, they also said innovation will go hand in hand with increasing consumer confidence levels.

In a panel titled “New trends and reinventions” at the recent Hospitality Tomorrow Episode 2 virtual conference, Nick van Marken, managing director at consultancy Van Marken Limited, said recovery would be different across the industry’s segments.

“How do you deliver the high-touch, luxury experience at two-meter intervals?” he said.

Ezio Indiani, GM at the Hotel Principe di Savoia Milano, part of the Dorchester Collection, said coronavirus initially hit Milan hard.

“Ninety-five percent of staff were placed on redundancy for 18 weeks with government funds, with the difference in salaries being made up by the firm,” Indiani said, who is currently the president of the European Hotel Managers Association.

He said the association’s position is that there should be a moratorium on property taxes and rents and the provision of loans for 15, 20 and 25 years at low interests to provide cash flow.

“We also need not hold (hotel) directors liable, and without all of this, no hotels probably will open, as the risk would be too high,” Indiani said.

In Italy, the plan is for hotels to reopen in mid-June, Indiani said.

“If our requests are fulfilled and we see at least some international flights, there is hope,” he said.

He added that it is not just resorts with their limited seasons that contemplate not opening in 2020.

“Domestic business is not large enough in Italy—perhaps 10% to 12%—to justify opening a hotel in many cases,” Indiani said.

Panos Almyrantis, GM of the Daios Cove Luxury Resort & Villas on the Greek island of Crete, said the Greek government instigated lockdown rapidly across the nation.

“We’re not panicking anymore. Twenty percent of our (gross domestic product) comes from tourism … and restrictions have started to be lifted. Hotels will follow,” he said.

Where Greece is struggling is with tour operators, and in most cases contracts have been cancelled, he said.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel in The Netherlands, said Stephan Stokkermans, managing director of the Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin, 25 miles southwest of Amsterdam.

He said the southern region of The Netherlands has been hit hardest by the virus around the city of Eindhoven, but added the government plans to start reopening restaurants on 1 June.

“(My hotel) remained open, but until last week we only did roomservice for about 30 guests,” Stokkermans said. “We’re on the beach, and as there is a holiday soon, and with 150 rooms, we may have 300 guests, so there will be challenges there.”

London must reopen its celebrated theaters, museums and shops to restore the center of the city, said Stuart P. Johnson, managing director of Brown’s Hotel London, which is part of Rocco Forte Hotels.

“The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s extension of the furlough scheme to October gives us huge flexibility, but if the government brings in quarantine for those arriving in the country, it will be another nail in our coffin,” he said. “Everyone is worried about (luxury hotels’) inability to welcome guests when they do come.”

In Monaco—the second-smallest nation in Europe and where some of its functions are administered by France, notably defense—Manuel J.S. de Vasconcelos, GM of Le Meridien Beach Plaza Monaco, said without agreement across European nations it will be harder to recover.

“Can we just agree on something basic? How do we expect people to stay in hotels if they are not sure what is right, or not?” he said.

Indiani said the EHMA has tried to secure pan-European agreement, but it became impossible due to national differences.

“I am sure if we looked at all those national protocols there would be a lot of similarities. This will teach us to be more European-wise, not nation-wise,” he said

De Vasconcelos said government decisions have not made much sense.

“If you can go to the dentist, where you have to open your mouth, you should be able to come to my hotel for dinner,” he said.

Manuel Otero Alvarado, GM of the Hotel Inglaterra in Sevilla, Spain, said his government has also started the reopening process and has written 12 separate protocol documents for the hospitality sector.

“There is one for hotels, one for camping sites, for museums, for everyone who wants to open. We are ready,” he said.

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