These are without a doubt uniquely challenging times for the hotel industry. Bookings have fallen off a cliff, many have been forced into laying off hundreds of workers and if there is light at the end of the tunnel, it appears to be a long way away. It is hard to think of many industries worse hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite this, rather than despairing, many hotels have thrown their weight behind the public effort to tackle a crisis quite rightly described as unprecedented. Indeed, there are many heartening ways in which hotels have joined together with the public sector to offer help and support. The action many have taken could well lead to a shift in the way that hotels are more generally perceived in the eyes of the public. Arguably, the current crisis represents an opportunity for hotels to connect with local communities in a way that they have not done before.
Following the UK government’s announcement that hotels could only stay open for essential workers and homeless people, many groups have been quick to offer up their rooms.
Some have chosen to do so freely, thereby incurring greater losses by remaining open at a time when there is next to no demand. One of these is the Atlas Group, which manages a portfolio of 48 hotels across the UK. Martin Coombes, Operations and Products Director for Atlas Hotels had this to say: “We are actively talking to various NHS trusts to see how we can help plus we are housing homeless people in some of the hotels with the support of local councils”.
Martin also pointed out that the Atlas Group is offering free storage for NHS staff, reflecting a nationwide effort to both actively support and show gratitude to those on the front line during this crisis.
In the same vein, OYO hotels have worked hard to keep over 2,000 rooms open in the UK in spite of the current travel restrictions. OYO has introduced significantly reduced fixed rate pricing across the UK in order to “remove unpredictability, allowing individuals and businesses to accurately budget for contingency accommodation.”
Rooms have been made available for a flat rate of £175 per week or £32 per night both in London and elsewhere in the UK. Such is the ever-changing nature of the coronavirus situation, maintaining a supply of available rooms at low rates is essential to many workers and can help reduce the spread of the virus through unnecessary commuting and contact with others.
Rob Paterson, CEO of Best Western GB has admitted that these are “terrible times” for the hotel industry. He has, however, been quick to cooperate with various public sector bodies by establishing Process C19, an NGO comprising NHS clinicians, logistics companies and volunteers.
Describing the action the group has taken, Rob said “we set up the organisation to interface well with the NHS and support their needs from accessing protective gear through to monitoring technology in hotels. The response from the local community has been immense and we are so grateful for all the support”.
This scheme pioneered by Best Western GB reflects an industry-wide trend of hotels collaborating with various stakeholders and a breaking down of previous inter-sectoral barriers in ways rarely seen before. During the current pandemic, It should be noted that new forms of cooperation like this are by no means unique to the hotel industry, but the situation has undoubtedly proven to be a catalyst for unique forms of cooperation within the industry itself.
It will be interesting to see whether these new relationships continue once the current crisis does eventually blow over. There can be no doubting that COVID-19 has shaken the hotel industry to the ground but a silver lining could come in the form of new partnerships and a creative re-imagining of the hotel space, paving the way for hotels to play a much greater role in local communities.
In a show of solidarity and compassion with local communities, Accor decided to light up all of its hotel facades each night with a heart