Hotel bosses urge Boris to act now on reopening to ‘save our industry’
Bosses of hotels in Norfolk are calling for Downing Street to end confusion over reopening on July 4.
Hoteliers are now taking bookings from July like holiday parks and campsites but say they are still badly in the dark over the details.
While larger hotels owned by national firms have more finances available to plough into new safety measures, smaller independents say they are struggling. And they fear information will come from Downing Street at too short notice, with one boss of 10 independent pubs and inns saying: “You can’t switch on the lights the night before.”
Hotel owners, although seeing trade return as people book as far ahead as Christmas, are frustrated over the vague date of July 4. If it gets delayed, they’ll have to refund customers. They also want clarification over whether people will be able to dine in their restaurants – or in outdoor spaces such as a terrace or gardens.
Meanwhile, planning large celebrations at a hotel such as weddings is a nightmare because the number of guests allowed for occasions in August and September onwards is unconfirmed. And many are waiting to see if social distancing will change before they alter the lay-out of interiors to confirm to the current 2m rule.
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It comes as this newspaper has launched the Love Local campaign, urging people to support businesses trying to get back on their feet after lockdown.
At independently-run Strattons Hotel in Swaffham, owner Vanessa Scott told this newspaper: “I still don’t know whether we’ll survive. We usually insist on taking a deposit but we are now taking bookings with no deposits and just hoping people turn up.
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“We’ve reduced costs as much as we can. When we closed, people thought they’d ask for their deposits back and when you times that by hundreds of people, it’s a lot of money.”
She said they would be waiting for the government green light and then putting in measures to avoid unnecessary costs now if things changed such as 2m distancing and signage.
Philip Turner, boss of the Chestnut Group, who owns 10 inns and pubs around East Anglia, said he would be opening up the Globe in Wells first because the location was so popular. But he said it was vital the government gave them time.
“If it wants to give the hospitality industry a helping hand, it cannot switch on the lights overnight.
“We need clarification because I’m not going to unfurlough staff until I know whether we can open. Right now the government is paying more people in hospitality who are furloughed, restricting UK holidays being booked and with Spain and France starting to open up without quarantine, people might decide to go there.
“People are saying consumer confidence is back but I think a lot of the bookings hotels have are legacy bookings from last year which haven’t been cancelled. People are holding onto bookings to see if they can travel.”
He said a survey of 2500 of their guests had seen 75% wanting to return in three-four weeks but half saying they wanted to wait at least two weeks.
“People want to wait and see. We will be opening the Globe as soon as we legally are allowed to but others like the Northgate in Bury St Edmunds will be reopened much later in the month.”
At Dunston Hall in Norwich, owned by Almarose Resorts, general manager David Graham said they’d introduced a raft of measures inviting people to enjoy a ‘Great British Breakaway’ with discounts on rooms. They’ve planned for its restaurant and bar to remain closed by introducing a ‘grab and go’ meal service for breakfast and a new room service menu. Eight rooms have balconies meaning guests can actually dine privately outside.
But the closure has meant a planned multi million pound investment in refurbishing Dunston Hall has been put on hold and about 40 weddings have been postponed to next year.
Mr Graham said: “We are prepared and ready to reopen on July 4. We would like more clarity from the government, the information has been slow coming forward and it would have helped if it was clearer and quicker but we understand they are under pressure.
“There is a lot of uncertainty, but we have taken the decision to take bookings from July 4. If there are delays to this from the government then we will refund customers like we have before.”
He said bookings were being taken for August and even Christmas. “We have regulars from Norfolk and Suffolk who have indicated they want to stay, people can’t go abroad so it’s good news for UK hotels.”