Bristol hoteliers hit hard by Coronavirus crisis

Raphael Herzog, Chair of Bristol Hoteliers Association (BHA)

The Coronavirus crisis has seen occupancy rates at hotels in Bristol fall to roughly half the levels they usually are in March.

The Bristol Hoteliers Association (BHA) say levels among its members are currently between 30 and 40 percent – but most hotels would usually be around 80 percent occupied in March.

Those rates have now fall further, to around 10 to 15 percent over the next two weeks.

Raphael Herzog, BHA Chair, has been in contact with Bristol North West MP Thangam Debbonaire about the impact of the virus on the hospitality industry.

The BHA is now hosting weekly conference calls among hotel General Managers, sharing feedback, experiences and ideas as their businesses fight to survive.

Mr Herzog said: “These are difficult times for many people, but the hospitality industry has been hit particularly hard.

“We are expecting occupancy rates to drop further in the coming weeks.

“Some hotels are planning to close as soon as the end of March, or partially close; some which are part of larger groups are looking at merging their operations, so that they have just one hotel open. Big hotel chains are announcing around the world the closure of many hotels around Europe and America.

“There is the possibility that the Government will instruct hotels to close completely during the next few weeks following the announcement on closing bars, restaurants and leisure facilities, which presents additional challenges, but clearly the welfare of our staff and guests must be the most important priority, and we must follow all guidelines.

“At present all hotels are only offering room service or take away options as we need to still be able to offer food and beverage to all our guests.

“Some of us have staff living in, so there are concerns about what will happen to them if hotels have to close. Some hotels are not going to be able to survive without either short-term lay-off of staff or even redundancies, which is a huge worry to many of our dedicated employees.”

He said most conferences that had been scheduled to take place between now and May have been cancelled, many conferences planned for June and July have also been called off and there are no new enquiries being made.

He said: “Most hotels are offering alternative dates over the next 12 months, but the big worry is all the uncertainty.”

Earlier this week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak promised yesterday to do “whatever it takes” to support the UK economy and introduced a number of measures designed to help businesses in the hospitality sector, including a 12-month business rates ‘holiday’, the offer of measures to help pay salaries and rents, and a relaxation of planning legislation to enable pubs and restaurants to provide takeaway services without the need to submit a planning application.

Mr Herzog said: “There are a number of other steps that the Government have introduced to help hotels and hospitality businesses further, such as paying 80% of the wages up to £2,500 as this will keep people in their jobs as well delaying VAT payment to ease cashflow, interest free loans to help company cashflow.”

But he said there is more that could be done, including:

  • A VAT-cut to encourage consumers to book trips and holidays so that trade can resume as soon as possible once the virus threat is over.
  • Slash the rate of National Insurance Contributions for one year, to help with the retention of staff.
  • Ensure the insurers are suitably supported to assist businesses experiencing cancellations.
  • At least delaying, if not reviewing, the implementation of a points-based immigration system, due to be introduced on 1 January 2021, which will have a huge impact on the ability of hotels, as well as other industries such as the care sector, to recruit staff.
  • Ensure that insurers are suitably supported to assist businesses which are experiencing widespread cancellations.
  • Postpone until September the proposed April increase in National Minimum Wage and the Living Wage, to ease the financial burden on struggling businesses.

As well as being in contact with the local MP, Mr Herzog is also in contact with Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality.

He said: “Among BHA members, it’s estimated there will be a revenue loss of at least £3 million through March and April, which is a massive drop which cannot be sustained. Or even more when hotels will be forced to close.

“After the crisis is over, we will need time to rebuild, which is why I believe we should not be restricted on who we are able to employ.

“The points-based immigration system should be delayed until at least mid-2022, to help the hospitality industry recover from this crisis.”

Until such time as hotels are ordered to close, BHA members are doing all they can to minimise the risk of spreading the virus and to maintain some social distancing.

This includes adding hand gel sanitising stations, not offering buffet services but instead only serving wrapped or plated food, increased cleaning regimes on all touching points around the hotels, public areas and bedrooms.

Hotels are also asking people to pay only by card and are not taking cash.

Mr Herzog said: “We are all determined to do everything we can to make our hotels as safe as possible for our guests and our staff. This is the most important as we need to follow government guidelines and reinforce social distancing.”

The Bristol Hoteliers Association represents 40 major hotels in the city, with around 4,000 rooms. Hotels put an estimated £200 million into the local economy.