EXCLUSIVE: What trading was like for hotels in the first few weeks of reopening


Although businesses in England, Scotland and Wales may be coming out of the squalls, there are still choppy waters that lie ahead for the UK’s hospitality sector.

Hotels have adapted operations, introduced new protocols and invested significantly in PPE equipment in preparation for reopening, be it July, August or September. Bolstered by the rise in demand for the UK staycation, destinations in enviable positions on the coast or in the countryside are seeing a steady increase in bookings, while many properties in city centres are still waiting for their bounce back.

Soon after the reopening, Boutique Hotelier discovered how businesses have been adapting to the new normal, what forward bookings look like and the immediate impact the pandemic has had on consumer confidence.

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July at The Capital would usually see occupancies levels reach between 90% and 100%, but this has dropped to 10%-15% as demand remains sluggish in London. Whilst bedrooms allocated on different floors to help guests remain socially distant, capacity in the restaurant

Soloman Khaddour, general manager at The Capital said reopening was a ‘little strange, but exciting’.

“Strange, because of all the new preventative measures we have introduced to ensure that our guests and our staff stay safe and to ensure that we are fully compliant with the latest government guideline. Exciting, because we got to welcome the team back, to see their smiley faces again and most importantly we got to welcome our guests back especially our lovely regulars whom we always kept in touch with during the peak of the pandemic and as a result few of them made a booking at The Capital Hotel few minutes after we announced the reopening.”

Although demand is slow, Khaddour said it was improving on a daily basis and he was expecting an overall occupancy of 20% in July.

“We’ve had few regular guests who were used to spending at least one weekend a month with us and who had been waiting to get out for months, so yes we’ve had few arrivals on the very first day of the reopening, but it’s slowed down again few days later and now it seems to have started improving very gradually, but nothing like we have been used to in past years especially for this time of the year. “

Harbour Hotels

All hotels within the portfolio reopened on July 4, with the exception of Bristol and Richmond and the brand’s two wedding venues.

The Richmond Harbour Hotel is still going through a refurbishment programme following a fire last year, and will not be opening until the beginning of November.

Managing director, Mike Warren said: “At the weekend, the doors opened on Saturday morning and guests were very keen to arrive, most wanted to check in at 9am, which was unusual but great. The staff were delighted to look after those guests and you could definitely see that was an indicator of pent-up demand; guests couldn’t wait to come back inside and experience that hospitality again.

“Saturday wasn’t the busiest night as I suspect many guests were a little nervous and waiting to see what would happen. But what we experienced was from Sunday onwards it was getting busier and busier and now we see a very clear trend to high occupancies. Booking pace would suggest that’s certainly going to continue right through to October and we anticipate that this staycation trend will roll further past when school term starts again.

“Our properties on the coast are very busy and the hotels in Cornwall, there isn’t really any weekend or week differentiation in July and August. It’s definitely played to our advantage having properties in those sought-after coastal locations.”

Seaham Hall

The hotel near Durham reopened its doors on July 7 and was looking ahead to reopening its spa on July 25, when Boutique Hotelier went to press. At this time of year the hotel would usually be running at circa 80% occupancy with a similar average room rate; opening weekend was on 60%, with the weeks ‘still very soft’ at the moment.

In the first week, Seaham Hall managed 30% occupancy and nearly 100% occupancy on Saturday 11th so an encouraging start. The hotel has re-inducted each member of the team as they are brought back off furlough into the new norm which has been well received.

Managing director, Ross Grieve said: “The early noises suggested we would have a reasonable first few weeks but with the Serenity Spa still closed as per the Governments directive this has definitely made re-opening even more challenging.

“We currently have 35% on the books and I am optimistic we will finish the month off at 50%, especially with the Serenity Spa reopening on the 25th July, giving us an opportunity for a strong finish. We are seeing encouraging growth day by day, but nothing record breaking!

“We are using our own database, social media and working with our affiliate marketing partners to drive awareness that we have re-opened and very much created staycation packages and maximised out 37 acres of grounds and out coastal location as a destination to break free from lockdown.

“The feedback from our guests has been very favourable to date, we have managed a one way system throughout the hotel and also have managed to adhere to the distance ruling.”

The Priory Hotel, Wareham, Dorset

Proprietor, Jeremy Merchant described reopening as a ‘positive experience’ with demand giving the business a huge confidence boost that people are keen to come away and visit post lockdown. The Priory Hotel saw an initial ‘very high’ spike in demand off the back of announcing its reopening date with bookings looking strong for the next three months. Occupancy for July is at 65% and Merchant predicts this will reach 75% by the end of July. 

“There was a large amount of work to prepare for reopening,” said Merchant, “but once it happened and the staff were back, everything seems to feel almost normal again with some new processes for reducing risk and following guidelines. We paced ourselves to begin with to ensure we knew what we had in place would work and to guarantee prioritising our guest’s and staff’s safety.

“We are quite a small boutique hotel, so rooms we have not had to reduce,” he added. When we re-opened, we kept to Residents only and this week are opening up restaurant bookings to Non Residents. We have reduced capacity in the restaurant to respect social distancing by 25%.

“We drove bookings for a voucher offer during lockdown, we are fortunate to have a loyal customer base which has been the majority of our bookings over the coming months. We will be launching our online gift voucher portal towards the end of this month that will allow customers to purchase vouchers from anything from afternoon tea to a 5 night Boathouse stay with cocktails. We are also introducing a new room only rate for the winter available to book directly with us.”

Bovey Castle, Devon

Clare Randall, general manager at Bovey Castle said it has been great to welcome guests back to the property following the lockdown. The hotel has had an impressive reopening, with occupancy levels running between 68% and 78% for July and August, with bookings increasing and currently pacing ahead for August compared to 2019.

“Bookings have exceeded our expectations and average length of stay has increased by 2.2 days,” she says. “It is always strong coming into the two key holiday months, first two weeks of July were a little slower this year but pace is growing and it looks that way through into August. We are anticipating a drop off into mid-September.

“Our key focus has been on capturing guests via online presence and raising conversion through safety, reassurance, outdoor experiences and flexible booking terms.

“We have reduced capacity in our restaurant and have also introduced new style of service and menus specifically for our lodges which are all delivered to their door, offering a ‘home from home’ feel.”

Hastings Hotels, Northern Ireland

Hastings Hotels reopened five of its hotels for accommodation in August with the final two poised to reopen in August. The hotels are operating at about 25% capacity for bedrooms and 50% for restaurants, with spas starting to open. Staff are slowly coming off furlough as business picks up again but is dependent on trading levels.

Julie Hastings, marketing director at Hastings Hotels says: “The resort properties are performing as well as expected – about 25% capacity while the urban hotels in Belfast and Derry are last to open due to overcapacity in the cities just now, lack of flights coming in and attractions in the cities still not fully open.

“We are only marketing the staycation market for now on the island of Ireland, which the national tourist board endorses for our industry here so business from Ireland is picking up – but only leisure business in the main.

“2020 will be a difficult year –it’s even hard to know how Christmas will look but we remain optimistic and 2021 is looking much better – not only have we so many weddings and functions which have moved to 2021 but we hope the international business will return across all the markets, sports, conferences, leisure, tour groups once they feel safe, quarantine agreements have been lifted and we resume some sort of normality.”

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Zoe Monk

The author Zoe Monk

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