I keep telling them to shout about what they’re doing, because lots of them aren’t right now,” says Jane Pendlebury, CEO of the Hospitality Professionals Association (Hospa), in exasperation.
She is talking, somewhat frustratedly, about UK hotels and the measures they’re taking to keep guests safe in the post-Covid era. Which, as it turns out, are awfully extensive.
We all know about the obvious ones – hand sanitiser all over the shop, Plexiglass screens at reception, a complete lack of minibar action once you get inside your room – but there’s a whole lot more going on behind the scenes.
“Hotels are taking this incredibly seriously,” she says. “They understand guests’ confidence is key to their success.”
And therein lies the issue. Consumer confidence is at an all time low, and convincing people to go on holiday, even domestically, after four months hiding from the “invisible mugger” as our PM so colourfully put it, is a trickier sell than hoteliers might have imagined.
Half of British travellers don’t trust hotel hygiene after lockdown, according to a survey of 1,894 respondents conducted by End of Tenancy Cleaning Company. Some 42 per cent of those polled even said they would clean a hotel room themselves before using it.
Ironically, it should be a prime time for UK properties to cash in, while so few of us are venturing abroad. Out of 2,000 Brits surveyed, more than a third (36 per cent) said they would avoid all international travel for the next 12 months, according to research from personal finance comparison website finder.com.
But while some UK hotels are managing to reap the rewards of their location – coastal properties in popular seaside destinations, for instance – others are left twiddling their thumbs, waiting for a summer that feels like it may never come.
“Rural locations are picking up, but not at quite a speed I would have expected them to,” says Jane. But the real casualties so far are city centre hotels. Many aren’t reopening till September; some may not ever reopen. London, home to more than 150,000 hotel rooms, has not seen much recovery at all since restrictions eased and overnight stays became possible again from 4 July.
It’s a particular blow given that 2020 was due to be a bumper year for the capital, with the highest number of openings – nearly 8,000 rooms across 65 new hotels – ever recorded set to take place.
Perhaps it’s understandable that travellers are steering clear of busy metropolises amid the ongoing pandemic. But what’s heartbreaking about the lack of consumer confidence is that hotels are working harder than they have in their entire existence to keep properties clean and guests safe.
Just hearing about all the new measures makes my head spin: leaving rooms fallow for 48 to 72 hours; deep cleans between every guest stay; digital keys that have required every hotel door to be modified; QR codes instead of restaurant menus; one-way systems; regular staff health and temperature checks; employees put in “bubbles” that work the same shift patterns to limit any potential virus spread.
“If you’re nervous about staying at a hotel, just ring them up and ask them what extra measures they’re taking,” recommends Jane.
A huge number of properties have signed up to one of two new schemes designed to outline best practice for hotels here in the UK. Both the AA’s Covid Confident programme and Visit Britain’s We’re Good To Go industry standard give accommodation providers a detailed guide on how to change the way they operate to protect both staff and guests. These comprehensive plans should reassure even the most anxious of travellers – and checking if the place you’re planning on staying is signed up to one of them is one of the easiest ways to give yourself a confidence boost.
In fact, some luxury hotel chains are going even further, splashing the cash on creating their own private partnerships to give guests peace of mind. For instance, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts offers Lead with Care, which includes a consulting agreement with Johns Hopkins Medicine International; Montage International has partnered with One Medical to deliver 24/7 digital health services to guests; and Preferred Hotels & Resorts, Accor Hotels, Las Vegas Sands Corp and Melia International have all partnered with Bureau Veritas, which offers a Safe Guard Hygiene Excellence Label programme affiliated with Cleveland Clinic, to help hotels reopen safely. Safety, it would seem, is the new luxury.
Which is good, because other luxuries might not be quite as we remember them from brighter days.
“Those extra five-star luxuries won’t be able to continue in quite same way,” warns Jane, citing a lack of valet parking and bellboys to help with the luggage. Guests will notice other differences too – they may find they have to choose their breakfast sitting in advance, are presented with a reduced restaurant menu, are encouraged to order room service, and can’t use the pool and spa without booking ahead.
Breakfast buffets are pretty much a thing of the past, as is early check-in and late check-out. But once you’re ensconced in your room, the experience really is just as enjoyable, as I discovered during my first hotel stay in four months. If anything, it’s even more of a pleasure to escape for a night after spending the entirety of lockdown looking at the same four walls.
And, there’s no two ways about it: the UK tourism industry desperately needs our help right now. “It is crucial that we return,” stresses Jane. “There are hotels that cannot afford to reopen. Those that are reopening need the support of the British public and visitors more than ever.”
Most hotels don’t run on big margins; they are not quite the money-making machines we imagine them to be. And during lockdown, they’ve still had costs and overheads without income.
Forget Eat Out to Help Out – what about Sleep Out to Help Out? A night away could just help the hospitality industry get back on its feet.