When the Government announced the reopening of the holiday industry, there were cheers, followed by tears of relief from some owners of lets, B&Bs and hotels who were at financial breaking point after losing their livelihoods.
While government grants have helped some through the coronavirus crisis, others were unable to claim anything to mitigate the catastrophic loss of income.
From this weekend, they are back in business and the question on everyone’s lips is “how will they keep us safe?”
There are no detailed guidelines from the Government so those running B&Bs and holiday lets have devised their own strategies. We spoke to three owners about how they survived lockdown and how they plan to safeguard guests.
Diane Howarth owns Cottage in the Dales, which includes three, award-winning five star holiday cottages in Bishopdale and Wensleydale. It operates as a limited company with Diane paid via dividends, which means she wasn’t eligible for furlough. As two of her cottages are attached to her house, she was unable to claim from the government grant fund for them, which left her with just a £10,000 grant from one detached holiday let.
“Between March and June we lost £45,000 in income and still had the bills to pay. That one £10,000 grant was a lifeline as it helped pay the bills but even though we are now able to open we won’t make any profit this year,” says Diane, who says communicating with guests helped, along with her “pandemic rebooking spreadsheet” .
“After lockdown I immediately called people who had booked with us and explained that if we gave everyone a refund we would go bust and offered them a back-up date with flexibility. All but two agreed. It took a long time and a lot of effort but I don’t think I would have got that response from an email.”
Safety is now Diane’s top priority and she says the Professional Association of Self-Caterers’ Covid 19 cleaning protocols for holiday properties is a great help. Along with disinfecting, she has pared back kitchen equipment as it must all go through the dishwasher whether it has been used or not.
She is also asking guests to strip their own beds and put the linen in bin sacks to protect the housekeeper. They will be left for 72 hours before they are washed at 60 degrees. The duvet and pillows will also be bagged and left for 72 hours before reuse. Accessories, such as cushions, have been limited and there will be no board games. While useful leaflets and books are available they must be put in a box after use.
“The PASC guidelines have been a great help and also flagged up the risk of Legionella from not running the water for so long, which I hadn’t thought of and is easy to remedy,” says Diane, who is also giving guests a Covid care welcome pack consisting of hand sanitiser, face masks, gloves and antiviral wipes in a pretty cosmetic bag.
Over at Stow House, a seven bedroom boutique bed and breakfast in Aysgarth, Sarah and Phil Bucknall have been able to claim £10,000 from the Government’s retail, hospitality and leisure grant fund, along with 80 per cent of their income because they are self-employed, though they are still out of pocket.
The Bucknalls have spent much time researching how to keep guests safe at their popular B&B. “Sprays from the supermarket won’t cut it so we will be using the commercial grade disinfectants we use in the kitchen and there will be hand sanitisers for guests,” says Sarah. “Staff will wear gloves and aprons and when the cleaners strip the beds they will keep the windows open and wear masks. We are also planning to buy more pillows so we can quarantine them for four days after use.”
Other changes include pre-ordering and booking a time slot for breakfast to minimise the number of people in the dining room.
Up in Helmsley, Helen Reid has reduced the maximum number of guests from 10 to six at her property on Castle View and aims to leave three days between bookings. She is also swapping mattress and pillow protectors after each booking.
Along with a more minimalist interior and new cleaning regime, she has also invested in an ultra low volume fogging machine, which sprays a mist of antiviral solution over everything from sofas to carpets and beds.
“They are used in hospitals and, although there are fears of it ruining fabric, I don’t think it does as it dries almost immediately,” says Helen, who paid £700 for the machine supplied by a firm in Warwickshire. She adds: “It’s a big outlay but we really want our guests to feel safe and confident to return here.”
Useful Contacts: PASC cleaning protocols, www.pascuk.co.uk/standards; www.stowhouse.co.uk; www.cottageinthedales.co.uk; Castle View, Helmsley, www.yorkshireholidayhome.com
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