With guidance and regulations regarding COVID-19 changing across industries and geographies, UKHospitality executives said schools, not hotels, are the government’s main focus right now.
REPORT FROM THE UNITED KINGDOM—UKHospitality, the United Kingdom’s principal membership organization for the hotel and hospitality sector, is pushing the government to further help hoteliers but understands that the business case always pushes up against the health case, executives said.
Speaking at a 20 August webinar titled “Leading through the revival,” Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, said in the six to eight weeks following the 4 July reopening of U.K. hotels and bars “75% of hospitality has fully opened, but the sector is performing at -46% of the revenue seen in 2019.”
She said there has been strong hotel performance in rural areas, but city centers are suffering very badly.
“There is a high degree of occupancy turnover in rural hotels,” she said.
On the webinar, Nicholls shared UKHospitality’s position in terms of hotel offerings that have not been allowed to operate and its lobbying efforts with government.
“Spas are still not fully opened, and they still have restrictions on sauna and steam. We are trying to understand why that sector has been forgotten. We also want more clarity and guidance so that operators can manage their processes and operations to get more bookings than they are doing,” she said.
“We feel we might have gone a little further than we needed to do in terms of social distancing in some cases.”
Meetings and events still cannot be booked in the traditional sense, with some events limited to up to 30 attendees, a position that was reviewed on 15 August.
“Traditional banqueting is still on pause, but I suspect we will move more rapidly on small private functions, rather than on meetings,” she said.
Nicholls added that hoteliers should be cautious in booking any events and that the government’s focus on reopening schools in September will mean less attention to business requests.
“Health professionals are telling (the government) they are still working at a maximum, so if (politicians) are focused on schools reopening, they will not be taking a parallel track with other offerings,” she said.
Nicholls added the next key date for a re-analysis of this situation will be 1 October, on which business events and conferences might resume if coronavirus cases continue to fall.
“There are pilot tests taking place, and we realize how vital it is to protect Christmas trade and functions,” she added.
She said that bookings of larger weddings are looked down upon due to the usual geographical spread of attendees and their multi-generational nature.
Three areas hoteliers need to have an even sharper focus on, Nicholls said, are:
- Masks: The government has toughened enforcement, and fines for breaches have been increased. Hoteliers are not made to enforce this, but signs and posters need to be updated.
- Track and trace: There has been renewed emphasis on getting and retaining details of guests, especially non-residents, at hotels.
- Two households only: Hoteliers must make sure they follow the guidance on two families only being able to gather together.
One scheme being developed involves QR codes to help track and trace, and Nicholls said multiple codes are allowed and encouraged for different areas of the hotels, so that properties can be divided.
“If there is a spa then that would not affect those in the bar, as an example,” she said. “We expect this scheme in the next few weeks, and it is also important for non-residents and staff. It also puts staff in bubbles, so if there is a problem in one bubble, you do not lose staff to quarantining from others.”
Nicholls said UKHospitality is concerned and pushing government hard over what is happening, or not, in city centers and in full-service hotels.
“We are staring down the barrel of a gun with furlough coming to an end,” she said.
She and her team also are campaigning for more rent and furlough support, and holidays for rents and value-added/sales taxes.
A job-retention bonus begins in January, in which £1,000 can be reclaimed for every furloughed worker brought back by the same employer.
The organization also is seeking an extension of recent apprenticeship schemes as a vehicle to retain and attract talent, and the further promotion of hotel and hospitality employers as best in class in terms of careers and work practices.
“We will be feeding all of this to government ahead of the (budgetary) Autumn Statement, as well as pressing for a plan for ‘return to work’—especially in London, which has no foreign tourists, no business events and no commuters,” she said.
“We need a clearer strategy on back to work from September and the use of public transport. It is too woolly at the moment,” Nicholls said.
“We are also talking to the Treasury to see if they have an appetite, no pun intended, to extend the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. It still talks about VAT cuts as a way for employers to pass on savings to customers,” she said.
As the summer’s warm weather largely continues, Nicholls also said hoteliers should keep an eye on Foreign & Commonwealth Office guidance to travelling abroad.
“Talk with staff, especially if they plan on travelling abroad. The employee will have the burden of risk on their shoulders, not the employer, and insurance coverage follows FCO guidance,” she said.
Nicholls said it is important everyone to “follow the rules for the greater good,” and because it will allow all aspects of hospitality to more quickly return.