Bristol Hoteliers Cautiously Optimistic About Re-Opening

Hotels in Bristol are making final preparations for re-opening their doors on 17 May but say there’s still some a long way to go before business is anything like back to normal.

While hoteliers are looking forward to welcoming guests back, most businesses are unable to operate at 100% capacity because of social distancing restrictions and can’t operate their bars and restaurants in the way they would like to.

Even if they were able to operate at full capacity, the biggest challenge will be ensuring they have enough staff to provide the level of service guests will expect.

The Bristol Hoteliers Association (BHA) represents some 40 hotels in and around the city, between them offering around 4,000 rooms.

When the Government revealed its roadmap to recovery earlier this year, BHA members said they intended to recruit at least 500 people as they prepared to re-open their businesses.

But BHA Chair Raphael Herzog said recruiting the number of people required has been difficult for a number of reasons, although these challenges will not prevent member hotels from opening their doors on 17 May.

He said: “There has been a shortage of people from the EU, who left when the pandemic struck but who have not yet returned, or who have not been allowed to return to the UK.

“The hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, and was often among the first to close and last to re-open. This has had a negative impact on people’s confidence when it comes to job stability.

“Many staff who had been initially furloughed have opted for alternative jobs, in retail, supermarkets and delivery because they think these sectors offer greater employment security.

“Seasonal workers like students are not yet available to work, so there is a risk, certainly during the short-term that some vacancies might not been filled as quickly as hoped which could impact the hotel operations.

“It’s frustrating because there are regular media reports about people losing their jobs and unemployment being high, yet we’re not seeing as many applications for our vacancies as we would have hoped for.

“It doesn’t help that new employees can’t be furloughed. If the furlough scheme could be altered for hospitality so that it could be applied to new recruits, it might increase their confidence.

“People often view working in hospitality as a short-term option or a stop-gap. We’re working hard to change those perceptions and raise awareness of the many opportunities for rewarding, varied, life-time careers within our wonderful industry.

“We are working very hard to offer a much better work-life balance than people seem to think there is; we also offer great benefits, and some properties even offer live-in accommodation and great tips and service charge benefits.”

Mr Herzog added: “We still can’t do wedding showrounds indoors, some hotels can only operate at 70% occupancy and restaurants in bars can only safely operate at 40% or 50% of their usual occupancy, so our businesses are still facing many challenges.”

What is encouraging is that there are strong signs that people are desperate to have a change of scenery once they are able to enjoy overnight stays again.

“Bookings are looking strong for leisure hotels, and there is half-term at the end of May, which we are expecting to be very busy.

“We are also looking for more clarity about what is going to happen from 21 June, when the roadmap says almost all restrictions will be lifted, which will allow us to operate at 100% capacity, host larger weddings and larger meetings.

“There’s a strong suggestion that we’re going to enjoy a staycation summer, although ultimately this will depend on what restrictions may stay in place for travelling abroad, which is why we would really like to have some clarity sooner rather than later.”