- Hotels, bed and breakfasts, and self-catering accommodation in the UK were allowed to reopen on July 4.
- Owners are hoping for a staycation boom as people rule out international travel because of the coronavirus pandemic.
- But accommodation providers have had to adapt to the new normal to remain COVID-safe for visitors. That means no more breakfast buffets — and guests making their own beds.
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Coronavirus has made international travel more fraught. In Britain, a staycation boom is expected: Almost half of Britons feel confident about taking a holiday in the UK between now and September, though they will have to make their own beds, check out earlier to facilitate deep cleans, and forget about the breakfast buffet.
UK hotels and self-catering cottages were allowed to reopen on July 4, and VisitBritain’s “sentiment tracker”, which measures people’s desire for a holiday, found 24% of people felt confident about taking a UK holiday in July. They were even more confident about the prospect of a trip in August (34%) and September (44%).
Cottage rental website Sykes Holiday Cottages said its July bookings were up 159% on the same month last year, and is predicting demand to hold, given that staycations don’t require airline travel, and are therefore more coronavirus-safe.
Hotels and cottages must follow government guidance to ensure accommodation is clean, social distancing between different groups is maintained, and that contact with staff is minimal. Hotels or rentals can show they are safe by completing tourism and hospitality accreditation schemes run by VisitBritain or The AA.
The result is that holidaymakers’ summer breaks might seem very different from what they’re used to.
‘Take sanitization seriously’
Retired teacher Tina Bird rents out the one-bedroom Deer Cottage in Norfolk through the Sykes website and has seen a jump in bookings for short breaks. During lockdown, when nobody could stay and bookings had to be refunded or rearranged, Bird refurbished the property.
She has received certification from the AA’s Rated Trips Covid Confident scheme, a free initiative that gives tourism companies and accommodation providers a risk assessment to evaluate cleanliness. Once signed off, they can use the certificate and logo on their website.
Her bookings have now resumed. Guests have to check in later and check out earlier in the day to allow for a deep clean during changeovers. All guests are provided with hand soap, sanitizer and cleaning products as well as a charter that provides relevant Covid-19 information.
“Guests have been very understanding of the situation and cooperative,” she said. “This has been received in good faith and guests are glad to know that we are taking this so seriously.
“We have had to pay for a few more items, such as extra bedding, towels and cleaning products but we have not increased our prices as a result.”
‘Checking in and out is completely contactless, just put the dishwasher on when you leave’
Combermere Abbey would normally host wedding guests through July and August but, with most of its bookings postponed, the estate is targeting the staycation market.
There are 10 self-catering cottages on the site, which sits on the Cheshire-Shropshire border. A fully contactless check-in process means guests book online and are told which cottage to go. The key is left in the door. Check-in is now from 5pm instead of 4pm, and checkout is 9 a.m. instead of 10 a.m..
Guests are asked to load and turn on the dishwasher before they leave and put used linen in bags that are provided to give time for deep cleaning between stays. Customers are also sent a health questionnaire and must provide names and addresses of people staying for the government’s track and trace system, in case there is a coronavirus outbreak on site.
Books and board games have been removed from the cottages, although owner Sarah Callander Beckett said most families bring their own.
There is hand sanitizer in each cottage and around the site, near communal areas such as bike sheds and tennis courts, as well as posters reminding people to wash their hands.
All staff have completed the Visit England risk assessment training course and received its “We’re Good to Go” accreditation.
Guests can reach staff by phone during the stay, so it’s possible for a family to arrive and remain in their bubble without seeing anyone else.
Callander Beckett said the self-catering cottages were a good option for families “looking to come out of lockdown and go away and be safe.”
“You get in your car, drive and park outside your own space and then get back in and drive home at the end,” she added.
The end of the breakfast buffet
Family-run Hastings Hotels has 1,000 rooms across four sites in Northern Ireland. It usually benefits from cruise business and American tourists, none of whom will be visiting this summer.
Managing director Howard Hastings said bookings were slowly resuming. Capacity is down: Only a third of the rooms are available and guests must complete check-in details before arriving.
The breakfast buffet is closed and replaced by table service, which Hastings insists customers still enjoy. Room service is still available but trays are left outside room doors. Guests may even have to make their own bed during their stay.
You can still get spa treatments and use treadmills in the gym while social distancing, but changing rooms are out of bounds.
“We give guests enough towels and items to start with so others are not in the room more than they need to be,” Hastings said.
“We have also removed excess items such as cushions to reduce how much needs to be cleaned. Rooms will only be cleaned during a stay if requested but afterwards our cleaners will provide a deep clean and wear personal protective equipment.”
Hastings said there are many reminders for people to socially distance — but he has tried to avoid alarming guests.
“Tables are socially distanced and there is lots of hand sanitizer available but we haven’t gone overboard with tape on the floor. The customers who are coming are sensible and compliance has been good.”