Tuesday 23 June 2020 7:02 pm

Staycation nation: Johnson urges public to take a UK holiday

Prime Minister Boris Johnson today gave the green light for hotels, B&Bs and campsites in the UK to reopen from 4 July, and urged the public to revitalise the hospitality industry by taking a “staycation” within the UK.

In a major easing of social distancing rules, the PM today provided a lifeline for the hospitality industry after he announced that “people will be free to stay overnight in self-contained accommodation” within the UK from 4 July, meaning “staycations” are back on the cards this summer.

“Now is the time to send out a welcoming signal to those from other parts of our country [and] to roll out the welcome mat,” he added. “I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend staycations.”

Hotels, B&Bs, cottages, bungalows and caravan parks in the UK will be allowed to reopen, but hostels will remain shuttered for the moment, as shared dormitories and washing facilities are still considered unsafe. 

Passport to recovery

Industry figures welcomed Johnson’s announcement today, adding that the 4 July reopening date would allow them to cash in on the key summer season.

The £130 billion-a-year domestic tourism industry has been crippled by the coronavirus pandemic, with 80 per cent of the hospitality industry currently furloughed as hotels, pubs and campsites remained shuttered across the country.

Visit England director Patricia Yates said: “The confirmed timeline for reopening is great news for England’s tourism industry and the millions of jobs and local economies that depend on it.”

“Giving certainty to businesses means they can work with confidence on their plans to welcome visitors back safely and in time to save as much of the peak summer season as possible.”

Park Holidays UK, one of Britain’s largest holiday park operators, said they were pleasantly surprised by Johnson’s speech.  It was thought campervans would be excluded from a list of holiday venues allowed to reopen due to hygiene concerns of shared facilities, but Johnson today declared them safe to reopen from 4 July.

“Within an hour of the PM’s announcement, our bookings began to soar to record levels,” said Park Holidays UK director Tony Clish. “Our staff teams are also overjoyed at the prospect of seeing their parks buzzing with activity once again, and I think it’s going to be a very emotional time.”

Menu changes

Some of the UK’s biggest hotel chains announced a slew of changes today ahead of their 4 July reopening.

Jurys Inn, which operates 38 hotels in the UK, and Leonardo Hotel Groups today announced a “five point plan” to prepare for reopening, including cashless payment and room service only.

Meanwhile French firm Accor, which owns brands including Novotel, Mercure, Ibis and Sofitel, said it plans to reopen some of its 270 hotels from the start of July. The chain will remove paperwork and telephones out of rooms, and guests will be encouraged to eat “grab and go” meals in their hotel rooms, the Guardian reported.

Foreign travel

However, some prominent figures in the hotel industry warned that business will not return to normal levels until international travel resumes.

Hotelier Sir Rocco Forte, who owns 14 luxury hotels around Europe, criticised the government’s decision to maintain the 14-day quarantine for international travellers to the UK, warning that it would significantly hamper Britain’s hotel sector.. It’s no good just reducing the social distancing rule from two metres to one metre – that won’t help businesses which rely on international travellers because they simply won’t be coming here. It leaves many unable to open their UK hotels because it is just not economically viable.”

Meanwhile Gloria Guevara, chief executive  of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), warned that today’s new guidelines did not go far enough.

She said: “This does nothing to bring greater clarity for when travellers and holidaymakers can start venturing abroad or when international travellers can arrive into the UK on air bridges or travel corridors without having to be quarantined for 14 days.”

“WTTC believes the recovery of the wider Travel & Tourism sector desperately needs a clear timeline for when overseas travel can resume.”

The UK last weekend agreed an “air bridge” with Spain, which will allow UK visitors to bypass quarantine measures.

Health secretary Matt Hancock today hinted that a revision of the current quarantine rules might be on the horizon. “A lot of work is being done on travel corridors and we have a formal review date of the quarantine policy at the end of this month on the 29 June,” he said.

Enough warning?

But while the Prime Minister’s announcement was greeted by big figures in the hospitality sector, others warned that the July reopening date— which is just two weeks from now — did provide businesses enough time to prepare.

Christian Mole, head of hospitality and leisure at EY, said: “We expect to see many business-orientated hotels delay their reopening dates beyond 4 July and unfortunately, the recent pace of announced restaurant closures and resulting redundancies may continue across the remainder of 2020.”

UK travel trade association Abta said the sector remains “perilous state”, and that Johnson’s announcement today does not rule out the possibility of further redundancies.

“We need a more comprehensive road map as soon as possible that includes time frames for relaxing international travel restrictions too so businesses and customers can plan ahead,” an Abta spokesperson said.

‘The process of sending people on holiday is not like turning on a tap. As much advance notice as possible from the government is required for travel companies to restart operations.”

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