Hoteliers are calling on the government to provide their businesses with a roadmap to recovery similar to the one that has been outlined for schools. They say they feel they have not been treated as fairly as other sectors and are calling for more clarity to enable them to properly plan and prepare to re-open their businesses.
Earlier this month Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched the ‘Build Back Better Council’ which aims to bring together business leaders from many sectors to work with the government to unlock investment, boost job creation and help shape post-pandemic economic recovery plans.
However Raphael Herzog, chair of the Bristol Hoteliers Association (BHA) says his sector is not properly represented on this council and that hotels are not being given the voice and support they need.
He said: “There is one restaurant chain representative on this new council, but no dedicated voice for hoteliers. Many of the other industries represented on the council, such as construction, banking and telecommunications, have been able to continue operating during the lockdowns to a far greater extent than we have been able to, yet they have a dedicated representative and we do not.
“Many hotels have invested considerable sums of money – despite having very little, if any, income – in making our buildings Covid-19 safe, yet hotels have been among the first businesses to be forced to close during lockdowns and are among the last to be allowed to open. Despite this, we have continual costs, such as security, cleaning and maintenance, yet no income.”
He said this week’s announcement that schools would not re-open until the second week of March at the earliest means realistically that it could be April or even May before hotels can open. With treasury minister Jesse Norman suggesting this week that there are no plans to extend the current VAT reduction for hospitality businesses after the end of March, Mr Herzog said hoteliers are desperate for more clarity and more support.
“We need a VAT reduction until December so that we can benefit from it when we are open. The reduction makes no meaningful difference to us while we are shut.
“Why would you not allow people to stay in a hotel and have a meal in a restaurant? Surely it’s much safer to manage people’s social lives in environments which have been made as clean as possible than for people to feel they have no choice but to get together to have parties in houses and flats, which pose a far greater risk to their health?
“With all the measures we’ve invested in, it is safer to come to one of our hotels than it is to go shopping in a supermarket. Furthermore, hospitality is the first employer for many under-25s, and we’ll be here to help provide those young people with jobs as soon as possible. The hospitality sector is also keen to use the Kickstart scheme, but again we simply can’t plan until we are given a better idea of when we are going to be able to open.”
The Kickstart scheme enables employers to create six-month job placements for young people who are currently on Universal Credit and at risk of long-term employment. Funding is provided to cover the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours per week, plus associated National Insurance contributions.
Mr Herzog said: “While it will take time to get our hotels fully back up and running the Kickstart scheme will be an idea way to ensure we have adequate staffing levels in an affordable way, while giving those young people vital skills and experience to make it easier for them to find work once the scheme ends.”
“But with no idea on when we can re-open, we simply cannot plan or recruit. We need a roadmap, like the one laid out for schools. Previously, we have been given just a few days’ notice that we are able to open again, which is simply not enough time to get everything ready.
“We need to know when we can recruit; when we can open; we need clear answers on whether or not the VAT reduction will be extended – we have called for it to be extended for the whole of 2021 because it is going to take time for our businesses to get back up and running.
“We’ve asked for clarity about whether or not there will be further extensions to the furlough scheme, or any other support. We need to get hotels and restaurants to be allowed to operate again under the Tier 3 restrictions, like any other non-essential businesses.”
He added that he is constantly in touch with local MPs to seek further support for the sector, but even many MPs are “not kept in the loop on what is happening, and when.”
Mr Herzog said: “The Prime Minister has said it won’t be enough to go back to normal as we recover from the pandemic, he wants to ‘build back better’ and level up opportunity for people and businesses across the UK. We say that the government should level up opportunity for hotels, too and provide us with a clear roadmap. Hotels have not been supported as much as other industries have and more than anything else we just want to be treated fairly.”