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EXCLUSIVE: “I strongly believed 2020 was going to be our best year yet and I still think it can be” Hoteliers stand resilient during Covid-19 outbreak

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Hoteliers across the country are standing strong and resilient in the fightback against the coronavirus outbreak, using the lockdown period to train their teams, reassess business strategies and focus on developing their offerings.

We caught up with a handful of top owners and managers at luxury hotels up and down the country to discover how they are dealing with the fallout of the enforced Covid-19 closures and what they are doing to prepare for when the lockdown lifts.

While many are taking this time to help out local communities and establish stronger links with other surrounding businesses, the prime focus for each property is the care and support for their staff.

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Farncombe Estate – Dormy House, The Fish and Foxhill Manor, Cotswolds

Andrew Grahame, CEO, Farncombe Estate says: “Family spirit has always shone brightly at Farncombe and will continue to do so in the months ahead – it’s the foundation of our business and has never been more important. The safety and welfare of staff is the number one priority and the team is being fully supported throughout this challenging time. After sharing the news that we were closing the Estate I wrote to each and every team member to tell them a simple message – “We’ve got you!” Jobs will be protected. I strongly believed 2020 was going to be our best year yet and I still think it can be.
 
“As a team, we’ll use the time to train, innovate, reinvent and raise Farncombe to an even higher level, and we look forward to celebrating our re-opening once the threat has passed. Over recent days I have had several conversations with our owners and I have been hugely comforted, and often overwhelmed, by their sense of family, duty and their concern for all employees.”

Rockliffe Hall, Darlington

Jason Adams, managing director, says: “We are continuing to work with a core essential team to make sure the hotel is perfect when Rockliffe Hall is able to reopen.

“The commercial director and marketing team are working on commercial plans for all areas of the hotel so we hit the ground running.

“Before the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was introduced, the situation was incredibly challenging, but we are now working hard to apply for these salary subsidies for furloughed workers.

“Operational teams who are still employed away from the business are working on SOPs, training files, food bibles and many other projects while appraisals are being carried out over video conference apps.

“To support our team members with their wellbeing and mental health we are sending out a daily email to every member featuring quizzes, YouTube videos of meditation and yoga, and music playlists. We have also set up a WhatsApp group for all team members to stay in touch, including myself.”

Hambleton Hall, Rutland

Tim Hart, owner, says: “Our aim is to put together a plan that will enable us to pay suppliers and keep wages going for many months, so that when we do reopen, we will offer the same quality of service.

“The Chancellor’s support has been terrific, but I very much hope that something can be done for the self-employed. We have a number of suppliers in this category who are in big trouble.”

Longueville Manor, Jersey

Pedro Bento, managing director says: “Here at Longueville Manor we made the decision to close although some Jersey hotels remain open.

“At any time we expect to be given ‘lockdown status’ as it was given for Guernsey.

“Most and foremost we are looking after our staff by opening for them twice a day to give them a complimentary meal, and to the ones that have lost/cannot afford to pay for their accommodation, we have them staying for free at the hotel.”

South Lodge, Sussex

David Connell, general manager, says: We have officially closed the hotel and whilst we have a skeleton crew of people retained to secure the premises alongside some live-in staff that have nowhere else to go, we have effectively released everyone else from the business. These are all being taken care of financially, so they have some reassurance. How long we can do this for is anyone’s guess but we are optimistic of making it through to the other side and reopening the hotel and spa. I have little doubt that we will be stronger and better for it.

“From a positive perspective, it does give us an opportunity to push the reset button and challenge the status quo of how we have done things to this point so we can improve areas that we feel are necessary.

“We are all united against a common enemy and need to support each other as much as we can to guarantee an industry to come back to. The hospitality industry is by its sheer nature about family, and we have to support each other through this, no matter what.”

Palé Hall, Wales

Angela Harper, co-owner says: “Palé decided to close ahead of the announcements that we should, and had already told our staff that we would keep them on and pay them fully. We had already begun discussing with our lenders taking a mortgage on our home to see us through.

“Initially we were going to do wine, cooking and gardening courses for the staff but unfolding government advice has shelved that. 

“General manager Debbie has moved her family in to Palé for the foreseeable future, looking after all the animals with her children.

“We love our staff and their loyalty to us is humbling. We make sure we speak to the whole company via daily updates, and we ring everyone to make sure they are ok in these uncertain times and most importantly, we are a team so we are always chatting anyway.”

The Torridon, Scotland

Co-owner, Rohaise Rose-Bristow, says: “2020 was going to be a great year and it still may still be! At Torridon we are 22 still living here on-site, as the team cannot get back home, so life is very different.  Focusing on keeping healthy and mindful so activities are planned, such as gardening, exercise and looking after each other. Also looking at suggested on-line learning the team can focus in on with FLOW, WSET and other management courses.

A number of the team have volunteered to join the car-share scheme to help get medicines and shopping to local vulnerable people.

We are focusing on how to come back and new branding is underway, as well as the launch with the re-designed restaurant and our amazing new Head Chef – Paul Green.

One Aldwych, London

Janine Marshall, general manager, says: “Our big concern with the lockdown was about retaining our incredible team at One Aldwych. Their product knowledge and all round brilliance is a part of what makes us special, so we were thrilled when the government announced its planned support. This has allowed us to keep the majority of our team in place, so that we can hit the ground running once restrictions are lifted.

“In the meantime, we’re looking to the future – working on some exciting partnerships with likeminded local brands here in Covent Garden and looking at how we can use this down time for the greater good.”

Burgh Island Hotel

Giles Fuchs, owner says: “We are in a fortunate position to be able to offer accommodation to the hotel’s staff during this time and we continue to monitor their wellbeing and safety as we all commit to following the Government’s guidelines on staying at home and social distancing.

“It is certainly a challenging time for the hospitality and leisure industries. The Government’s measures, including giving companies in the sector access to loans, grants and business rate relief are therefore welcome and the sector is also playing its part in our efforts to combat the impact of the COVID-19 virus.

“A number of large hotel groups and independent operators, in some of our bigger cities, have offered to house NHS staff and now the homeless. This is inspiring and I applaud their commitment.”

Marsham Court Hotel, Bournemouth

Simon Scarborough, head of training and staff development, says: “The hotel reluctantly has been closed since last Tuesday evening but we are ready to re-open at any stage; we have been liaising with the council that if they need beds for key workers or patients who need to re coup before they go home.

“The Government initiative of allowing our staff and mangers to go onto furlough was a great a relief, as without this we would have had to make many of the workforce redundant, which would have been a very hard decision to implement.

“My role here is developing and training all the team a lot of time and resources have been put into them. The team are fantastic and work really well together; we need keep this strong dedicated team ready for when we reopen.

“All our groups due in from March to June have been offered alternative dates and we have been flexible with upcoming weddings. New group business enquiries are still coming in which is very encouraging.

“We are all keeping a very positive attitude and very mindful of the situation, but in addition to ensuring we have a business once the lockdown is lifted, the hotel has been offering care packages for the local community. All our prices cover our costs and are not to make money.”

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Zoe Monk

The author Zoe Monk

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