Holidaymakers posing as key workers to “hoodwink” hosts

UK: Hosts across the UK are reporting having to defend their accommodation reserved for emergency workers during the latest lockdown against increasing numbers of people  with “dishonest” claims posing as key workers, in order to get a holiday.  

The Old Bike Shop serviced apartments received a booking from one guest using the letterhead and phone number of two disparate companies to allegedly “forge” a document as proof of reason for travel. Owner Geetha Murugesan found this out when something “didn’t seem right” about the document provided stating they were key workers.

Murugesan said: “I Googled the company name and spoke to their HR – they said they had no work in Norwich and we confirmed the letter was forged with their letterhead. I also called the phone number on the letter and to my shock, it was a minicab firm!

“Even though I was fuming, I sent the lady a polite message to say we will not be able to accommodate her as we cannot verify the documents. And guess what? I get a call after ten minutes from the same lady asking for accommodation! After a deep breath, I told her it was me she had been speaking to for the last hour – she put the phone down!

“When I planned to operate serviced accommodation, I never knew I’d have to do all this before even getting someone through the doors,” added Murugesan.

Hosts like Murugesan across the UK say they are “valiantly defending rooms and apartments [often priced low or no cost] against people determined to take advantage of their good nature”.

Boostly, an online training platform for hospitality owners, directs accommodation hosts to guard against such bookings and frustrated hosts have shared their concerns in its Hospitality Community Facebook group. While smaller accommodations have turned away bookings, some larger hotels are reported to be taking bookings at face value.

TOBS Apartments offers reserve bookings for locum doctors. NHS hospital transfers and other emergencies have increased the need for spare beds but if rooms are taken up by guests booking a holiday against the rules, the priority medical frontline staff could be left out in the cold.

People trying to “hoodwink” hosts to usurp beds reserved for key workers pose a risk to public safety during the pandemic. Boostly was shown tips on how to mock up evidence for permitted reasons to travel from within the Awakened Travel Facebook group but requests to join the group were denied.

Boostly founder Mark Simpson said: “These so-called essential bookings are giving the hospitality industry a bad name and risking the lives of others by breaking government regulations set to control the pandemic and save lives.”

Hopesdale House in the Lake District said it had received multiple bookings from guests claiming to be essential key workers in every lockdown.

Owner Joanne Cloudsdale said one guest claimed urgent work in the area for one night: “When asked what the work was, one guest said it was for a Covid charity! I asked him to send me the details and a letter from the charity – surprise surprise, no such information was received.

“In the last lockdown, a photographer chap wanted to book a family room for him, his wife and two children. He didn’t take it very well when I advised this wasn’t essential work – and work travel didn’t include the entire family for four nights,” she added.

Similarly, Royal William Studio catered for medical consultants transferred for Covid-19 training at Demford Hospital in Plymouth but they reportedly “sneaked in wives and kids and had the audacity to leave a note thanking us for giving them a well-deserved and remarkable break”.

Hospitality business owners have been opening their doors for essential travel only during lockdown – often at low cost – but are going to extreme efforts to verify documents against “scam artists”.

Trevelyn B&B owner Emma Rome said a family room had been booked for an adult and two children at her accommodation, and the stated reason for travel was to visit a relative with three months left to live.

Rome said: “I asked for an email from a hospital, GP or care home to confirm this statement. He apologised, said he wouldn’t be able to get any such paperwork and asked to cancel.”

Booking requests are withdrawn when asked to provide evidence for reasons to travel.

Rome added: “In all cases we require a third party [typically an employer] to confirm the guests are travelling for the reason they claim. This is to prevent casual holidaymakers from booking a room.”

Consequences of accepting a booking for accommodation range from penalties on the business to putting the safety of the UK at risk if emergency workers are not able to book a room when they need it.

Simpson said: “This will damage the recovery of the UK and the reputation of decent accommodation businesses. These small businesses are willing to do all they can to help the current crisis across the UK.

“We understand people want a holiday but accepting guests without the right criteria makes the business liable for penalties and puts our safety at risk.

“These shady bookings have a direct impact on our industry. It’s unacceptable,” he added.

Hotels, B&Bs and caravan parks can remain open for the specific reasons set out in guidance on closing certain businesses and venues in England.