New age: the old Trafford Park Hotel, west of Manchester: Simon Calder
New age: the old Trafford Park Hotel, west of Manchester: Simon Calder

As expected, the prime minister has said that hotels, B&Bs, caravan parks and campsites in England will be able to open from 4 July 2020. The “social-distancing” guidance has halved from two metres to one in England.

But Boris Johnson left out much of detail. In addition, other UK nations have very different policies.

The key questions are answered here.

What are the rules at present?

At present the UK government says: “No person should stay overnight away from their own home for a holiday.”

A few very specific exemptions are granted:

  • People unable to return to their main residence

  • “Those isolating themselves from others as required by law” (for example quarantinees, ie new arrivals from overseas who are required to self-isolate for 14 days)

  • “Any critical worker that is part of the effort to deal with coronavirus, if the stay is necessary for their work”

When and where is that changing?

Starting this week, the Northern Ireland Executive is allowing holiday and caravan parks, camping sites and self-catering properties to open for stays from Friday 26 June. However, it may not turn out to be the greatest holiday ever because pubs, restaurants and tourist attractions will be closed throughout Ulster for a further week.

On 3 July, serviced accommodation – hotels, hostels and B&Bs – will reopen in Northern Ireland, as well as the rest of the tourism industry.

For England from 4 July, the prime minister said: “People will be free to stay overnight in self-contained accommodation, including hotels and bed & breakfasts, as well as campsites as long as shared facilities are kept clean.”

He did not mention hostels, but Sam Dalley, editor of the Independent Hostels Guide, said: “Many of our hostels and bunkhouses are only 10 to 20 beds and so they can economically set themselves up as sole use properties for one or two family groups.

“They often let by the night rather then by the week so are a great short-break offering.”

What about Wales and Scotland?

These nations are being much more circumspect.

Visit Wales currently says: “Please do not visit Wales at this time and avoid all unnecessary travel within Wales. Following these guidelines will save lives. We look forward to welcoming you back in future; but for now, let’s all stay safe.”

Mark Drakeford, the first minister of Wales, has indicated that overnight stays in “accommodation without shared facilities where social distancing is possible” may be able to open on 13 July.

Similarly, the Scottish government currently says: “Stay at home as much as possible. Only go outside for limited purposes.

“A provisional date of 15 July has been set for when tourism businesses may be able to resume operations, dependent on public health advice.”

How different will the experience be?

Properties are devising and implementing new cleaning and disinfection protocols, as well as transforming their processes. These are a dozen of the changes that I foresee.

1 Think ahead. Even before arriving at the property, guests – and staff – will be presumed to stay at home if unwell. Anyone with Covid-19 symptoms should self-isolate, of course. Face coverings are likely to be de rigueur.

2 Check in. This could be the crisis that pushes the hotel industry towards more online registration in advance, rather than the usual rigmarole on arrival – to everyone’s benefit.

But with all the extra cleaning required in the age of coronavirus, expect hotels to be much less flexible on early check-in and late check-out. These indulgences may become increasingly paid-for services.

3 Heat wave. Staff and guests may have their temperature checked upon arrival.

Andrew Brownsword Hotels says: “Unfortunately, if your temperature is above 38C, we will not be able to welcome you to the hotel and we will invite you to rearrange your stay.”

Other properties are likely to follow suit.

4 Self-park. Valet parking is likely to be suspended.

5 New look. The typical hotel foyer will look and feel different, with plenty of clear plastic. Social distancing rules will be imposed (though some properties which assumed two metres are now hastily recalibrating their signage), with furniture rearranged in public areas.

The experience could be more austere, with superfluous cushions removed. And be prepared for some novel one-way systems.

6 Carry on. If porterage is normally offered, it may be temporarily suspended. Even if it isn’t, you may prefer to carry your own bags to the room.

7 Lift off. Many properties are restricting numbers in lifts to one or two people at a time, or or members of the same family group/guests in the same room. In tall hotels with limited lifts this could make waits very long – with the unintended consequence of increasing crowding in lift lobbies.

8 Good morning? Breakfast buffets are likely to be ditched in favour of table service.

9 Dining in. In-room dining could be encouraged, with the normal charges for delivery waived. In public restaurant and bar areas, staff may collect diners’ and drinkers’ details for later tracing and tracking if needed.

10 Social work. Guests eating and drinking on the premises will be encouraged to pay by card or put purchases on their room bill rather than to use cash. They may also be asked to use the toilet in their room rather than add to the pressure on public facilities.

11 No frills. Shared amenities such as newspapers and computer terminals may be withdrawn.

12 Clean break. Guests should regularly and scrupulously wash their hands with soap and water.

Will there be much to do in and around the hotel?

In England, says the prime minister: “Most leisure facilities and tourist attractions will reopen if they can do so safely, including outdoor gyms and playgrounds, cinemas, museums, galleries, theme parks and arcades.”

Swimming pools and spa facilities belonging to hotels may have to remain closed, which may lessen the appeal for many prospective guests – though some properties will organise pools to be available to family groups on a bookable basis.

What does the industry have to say?

Hospitality leaders gave the opening-up in England a qualified welcome.

Jane Pendlebury, chief executive of the Hospitality Professionals Association, said: “Having a definite opening date means hospitality can finally see a way forward – with the relaxation of the social distancing rule a huge relief for hoteliers and others in the industry.

“The uninitiated may see a hotel room as sufficiently socially distant (notwithstanding the cleaning logistics), but the situation is far more complicated than this.

“Without the ancillary services which people expect, such as the restaurant, bar and spa, hotels are going to struggle to attract custom once the novelty of simply getting away post-lockdown wears off.”

The chief executive of UKHospitality, Kate Nicholls, said: ”We are still awaiting the publication of guidance.

“While many venues will endeavour to reopen on 4 July, capacities will be constrained by social distancing and some may be unable to trade viably at all.”

Is everyone happy?

No. Owners of static caravans have been frustrated at not being able to visit the parks where their self-contained caravans are located, while camping has also been prohibited – even though both activities are very low risk.

Ahead of Boris Johnson’s speech, Ros Pritchard, director general of the British Holiday & Home Parks Association, wrote to the prime minister to say: “Campsites have only a matter of weeks remaining before they close in the autumn.

“To single them out for extended lockdown against scientific logic and contrary to international experience, is to sign their business death warrant.”

The travel trade association, Abta, said: “The travel sector remains in a perilous state, with redundancies announced each week, and more needs to be done to help the whole sector recover. We need a more comprehensive roadmap as soon as possible.”

The leading hotelier Sir Rocco Forte questioned the rules around eating and drinking.

“People who are going to go out once lockdown is eased are people who have accepted the risks involved. People who have underlying health conditions and risk factors are simply not going to go to crowded places anyway.”

Are hotels expecting a bumper summer?

No. While the government restrictions on overseas travel may increase the demand for some properties, the many hotels cater for foreign visitors, particular in London, are expecting a dire summer.

Sir Rocco Forte attacked the government for its “completely unnecessary and ridiculous” quarantine rules. Since 8 June, almost all arrivals at UK airports, ferry ports and international rail terminals have been required to self-isolate for two weeks.

“It’s no good just reducing the social distancing rule from two metres to one metre,” said Sir Rocco.

“That won’t help businesses which rely on international travellers because they simply won’t be coming here. It leaves me unable to open my UK hotels because it is just not economically viable.

“We are stopping people from coming to this country and saying that the UK is closed for business. These rules need to be lifted straight away.”

The home secretary, Priti Patel, insists: “These measures are informed by science, backed by the public and will keep us all safe.”

Will prices rise?

Costs for accommodation providers have soared. Smaller enterprises, such as B&Bs, may be more able to absorb these than larger properties.

Intense competition is likely to keep prices down in the short term. A double room at the three-star Woodland Hotel in Blackpool is available for just £22.50 in mid-July.

But with no earnings for 15 weeks for many hotels, and a severe recession expected, many temporary or permanent closures are likely.

“Many businesses, especially those that rely wholly or mostly on inbound tourism, will have gone through the equivalent of ‘three winters,’” said Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound.

Were the supply of rooms to diminish significantly, rates could increase compared with pre-Covid-19 levels.

Read more

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