As the United Kingdom eyes a reopening of the hospitality industry, its popular B&B sector—the heartbeat of rural communities—will suffer catastrophically if social distancing rules are applied as most cannot block off large chunks of inventory.
When tourism returns to the United Kingdom, will guests rush out to book our two largest brands in terms of hotel numbers—budget brands Premier Inn and Travelodge?
I do not think so. Those two will come back sooner rather than later. But first, even if everyone is stuck at home all day—probably because of that—we need a rest, the more remote the better.
I am seeing more and more advertisements for hotels and other accommodations offering guests isolation and separateness.
Hoteliers with unmovable assets might look to add interesting accommodations options in remote spots of their grounds.
This is what United Kingdom travelers will come back to first. Only if those budget and midscale hotels can mark out definite walk-through-the-hotel routes and block out 50% or more of their rooms, and remain financially viable, will they also rebound faster.
This might come as no surprise due to ongoing worries about catching COVID-19 in an absence of a vaccine and because we are all becoming used to solitude.
When tourism stumbles back, many travelers will want to be apart, to get away from the seething masses heading to the beach but making themselves believe they’re still sensibly social distancing.
There could be glamping options to offer in addition to the normal bricks-and-mortar guestroom, but for many country bed-and-breakfasts, in many ways the accommodations linchpin of countryside Great Britain, the need to separate guests and limit the number of rooms able to be booked is a nonstarter.
This is the golden sector of the British holiday—or at least I think so.
Robin Hutson, chairman and CEO of Home Grown Hotels and the Lime Wood Group—which operates the critically lauded, seven-asset Pig Hotel Group—said in a letter last month to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and signed by a litany of the United Kingdom’s leading hospitality providers that “the worst possible scenario for rural hospitality would be the ‘perfect storm’ of furlough ceasing, hospitality opening up, but social distancing rules imposed.”
With business rates still seen as onerous—even if they might have been temporarily stalled—the National Living Wage and other costs, Hutson and his peers have said their break-even point is around 70% occupancy. Many of them do offer their attractive hotels and offerings along with many staff, locally acknowledged chefs and the added allure of the property owner’s quirkiness, design taste, local knowledge and contacts.
This often does not come cheap. Without help—yes, more government help—there is a real danger this segment will be battered.
Another worry is that many of these gorgeous B&Bs and B&B-style hotels are in areas designated as national parks or designated area of outstanding natural beauty, and it is the populations of such areas who are most fearful of city dwellers—who perhaps wrongly or rightly they feel are blasé about social distancing—descending like hungry gulls on their remote villages.
It is a valid fear.
Tourism marketer Visit Britain has proposed a “kite mark” symbol to designate those accommodations options that have put in place all the necessary things to assure guests they are “COVID-19 ready,” but this might have to go hand in hand with some form of health-tracking app or mechanism for the guests themselves.
Only then will strategies be able to be put in place that can help hoteliers reach their break-even point or even a profit as that is the only way the domestic industry will see entrepreneurism, investment and employment.
Governments must look behind the mere notion of opening as the end of the crisis.
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