Hoteliers in Bristol say more Government support is urgently needed to protect the long-term future of their businesses in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
With the furlough scheme set to end next month, and new restrictions such as the ‘rule of six’ presenting additional challenges to the hospitality industry, hotel bosses say more support is needed quickly to help their businesses survive.
Many members of the Bristol Hoteliers Association (BHA) saw their premises operate at around two-thirds of their potential occupancy rates last month, with a few hotels not yet re-opened.
While August was a good month overall for most hotels given all the circumstances, business was still some wat below what was achieved last year.
And with no conferences, the end of the school holidays – therefore also ending the staycation boom – the BHA is forecasting overall business in 2020 is likely to be half of what was achieved last year, or even less.
An important source of income for many hotels is weddings and conferences, which have been hugely affected by the limitations of being able to have no more than 30 people attending any such gathering.
Raphael Herzog, chair of the BHA, said: “We need the Government to allow more people to attend weddings and conferences. This would provide a huge boost to our ability to continue to operate and would give event organisers more confidence to make bookings, whereas at the moment they are reluctant to commit because there are so many restrictions.
“We have made significant investments and implemented many procedures to make our hotels safe for guests.
“We need to get larger events and increased numbers of people through our doors.
“Pilot events are being tested in some hotels and events spaces across the country but we need the Government to speed up this process and increase the numbers we are allowed with some urgency.
“It doesn’t help that people who attend a meeting during the day – even though they will be safely socially distanced – are now allowed to then have a dinner together.
“A meeting for 30 people is OK under the current restrictions, but a dinner not (other than for a wedding). So, 30 people can come to our hotels for a meeting, but we can’t host a social dinner for a birthday or wedding anniversary in a private room; people will be restricted to tables of six in our restaurants.
“With restrictions on the number of people who can attended events, it’s very difficult for us to resume business properly and the end of the furlough scheme will only make it harder for businesses to balance the books.
“Unemployment has already increased massively this month and when furlough ends next month, this number is only likely to go up.
“Germany has furlough until March 2022, and France has singled out tourism and other sectors to have an extended furlough scheme until the middle of 2021 in order to help keep people in their jobs and provide some longer-term support and stability for struggling businesses.
“Here, the hospitality sector will have benefited from it between April and October, which has been great in the short term, but we needed longer-term support and solutions.
“The hotels are far from operating at the same level as last year and the scheme is ending. Other industries have benefitted from it fully during lockdown but are back on track and reaching almost same level as last year so why not offer more support to our industry until we recover?
He added: “Many clients are working from home and getting used to using technology such as Zoom for meetings and conference calls, and it could be that the convenience of this, coupled with the savings they make compared to booking conference space at hotels, means that the sooner restrictions on the numbers of people who can attend are lifted, the better, otherwise people will get so used to the new way of doing things that they won’t want to return to face-to-face conferences.”
The Christmas period – traditionally another good source of income for hotels – is also likely to be badly affected by the impact of the pandemic.
Mr Herzog said: “We suspect the traditional corporate parties won’t happen, because not only might there still be social-distancing restrictions and no dancing, but also many companies simply won’t have the same budgets available that they’ve had in the past.
“Hotels are going to have to think outside the box when it comes to Christmas and see what we will be able to offer in a safe way.
“The furlough scheme, the eat out to help out scheme, the business rates holidays and the reduction in VAT have all been beneficial to many businesses, and we’re grateful for them.
“But ultimately, they are only temporary measures. We need the Government to commit to providing some longer-term support in order to enable us to keep our businesses running and to help the economy recover from this crisis.”