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Hospitality industry reaction to furlough extension and potential July openings

Jane Pendlebury, the CEO of HOSPA, the Hospitality Professionals Association, comments, “The extension of the furlough scheme is a hugely welcome development for the hospitality industry. As one of the first industries to fall in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the issues that have forced many hospitality closures still haven’t gone away. Consequently, we’re in need of sustained support from the Government if there’s to be a viable hospitality industry once the pandemic has finally passed.

"As a sector, we’re working hard behind the scenes to try and determine best practice, establishing how we can go about maintaining our offering, whilst staying safe and returning to profitability. At present though, this is proving an extremely tricky balance to strike – and the Prime Minister’s suggestion that hospitality businesses could begin to reopen in July is enormously ambitious.  

If you’re blessed with a spacious outdoor area – and good weather – then providing a food and drink offering is much more feasible. If not, however, the necessities of social distancing will prove very problematic; problems that are only enhanced by the diversity within our industry.  

Using hotels as an example, a country house hotel offering a rural retreat will have much greater scope to reopen in July than a central London hotel. Many UK residents will no doubt be eager to escape to the country in the advent of lockdown lifting, so these hotels can expect bumper levels of interest. But will those rural communities welcome a great influx of visitors who may well bring the virus with them?  

City centre London hotels, conversely, often cater for wealthy, international guests. That trade is unlikely to return any time soon, especially when the theatres and many other attractions may not be fully open, while fine dining restaurants may find it harder to re-open whilst delivering the attentive service that plays such a big part in the experience.  

The biggest obstacle for all hotels though is likely to be room cleaning. We’ll almost certainly see in-stay cleaning greatly reduced, with no nightly turndowns and fewer changes of towels, however post stay cleaning will present the greatest challenge. For hotels to clean to a sufficiently high standard – with a deep clean no doubt required given the virulence of COVID-19 – will prove both extremely costly and time consuming, with a 24-hour gap between stays likely to be needed.  

The feasibility of opening for hotels then and subsequently breaking even – let alone turning a profit – is very unlikely as things stand. The extension of the furlough scheme though, should enable hospitality operators to stay afloat for longer, providing the necessary breathing space for businesses to bide their time until they can establish a viable way of operating.  

Despite the Government’s tentative July plans, our industry is likely to need sustained support for a long time if it’s going to be given the opportunity to recover. As a formerly thriving sector and one of the largest employers in the UK, we certainly hope that the Government will maintain its support not just until October but beyond.”

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