Hospitality “on its knees as unfair government grants are non-starter”

UK: Hundreds of struggling small hospitality businesses are being denied crucial funding promised by the government today, according to Mark Simpson, the founder of UK-based hospitality and short stay rental accommodation marketing website, Boostly.

Small businesses in tourism and hospitality are encouraged to apply for second rounds of the UK government’s £10 million Kickstart Tourism Grant scheme.

But the grants administered by local Growth Hubs have different rules of the game in each Local Enterprise Partnership [LEP] area with unfair exclusions and inconsistent information.

“We are unable to support private-owned holiday lets”

Self-catering holiday lets are excluded from the grant, businesses found out today.

Emma Punchard, owner of Mill Farm Eco Barn in Norfolk [New Anglia Hub], said: “I am really disappointed that our self-catering business has been excluded from this funding. Covid continues to have a huge impact on our business, particularly as we can no longer host groups bigger than six.” 

B&Bs and guest houses are excluded as they are too small to be limited companies.

Elizabeth Deadman, joint owner of The Maples B&B in Southampton with her husband Martin [Solent Hub], said: “I’m angry. We tried to apply but in Hampshire you have to be a limited company – I don’t know many B&Bs that are Ltd!”

Other independent hospitality businesses have missed out due to technical difficulties and lack of clarity.

Angela Plews is still waiting on a decision for her business, Barnabas House B&B in Dartmoor. She applied for the grant at the Heart of South West Hub on 1 September.

Karl Tucker, chair of the Heart of the South West LEP, which includes Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay, said: “Whilst we welcome this additional funding, this amount of money will only scratch the surface of the challenge we are facing in the region.  Our Growth Hub has been extremely effective and agile during this unprecedented period for business, having dealt with around three times its normal level of enquiries.”

“I feel worthless and invisible”

These Kickstart Tourism Grant issues became apparent from discussions and questions in the official Hospitality Community Facebook Group

Hospitality marketing expert Simpson runs the active group, providing advice and support throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic for over 5,000 short stay guest accommodation owners and hosts throughout the world. 

Simpson said: “These people are worried because they don’t know if their business is going to be there in 12 months, frustrated because there is free money on the table that will 100 per cent help them with their business but no official central guidance or communication, and this has led to anger.”

He created a thread to keep track of progress on Kickstart Tourism Grant applications in the active group since 7 August. The thread is updated daily by businesses feeling let down by the UK government:

  • Sam Rees, owner of Wesley House Holidays, Cornwall [Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Hub], said: “I’m disappointed and angry at the way the government dealt with grant applications. An absolute lottery on who could navigate the application quick enough. By trying to do it properly, I missed the shut off time of 40 minutes [which no one knew they would do].”
  • Anna-Maria Nerilli, owner of Magical Margate Townhouse in Margate, Kent [South East Hub], said: “I am sorely disappointed and angry that there are 75 grants available in my local hub. That’s not helping the tourism industry, that’s helping a few businesses, while the vast majority are left to flounder!”
  • Mandy Been, owner of Holly Tree House Cowes in the Isle of Wight, who was not eligible for the grant as her business is not a Ltd company, said: “I feel totally undervalued… we have put our heart and soul [and all our savings] into our business so visitors have the best possible experience when they stay with us. I just wish our local authority gave us more respect as a credible part of the tourism here.”
  • Denise Ballard, owner of Barrhill Woods B&B in Solway, Scotland, whose business did not fulfil any criteria on any scheme and had to close her business in March, said: “I feel worthless and invisible. Despite contact with my local MP, in the end there is nothing he can do and nothing constructive on what money I should live on!”

Simpson founded Boostly four years ago with the purpose of giving hospitality business owners the tools, tactics, training and confidence to get more direct bookings in an industry “dominated by third party booking websites”.

According to the founder, Boostly has provided over £75,000 worth of quotes for services for hospitality businesses to claim through their local hubs.

He said: “We are committed to helping the hospitality industry bounce back from the current pandemic that is affecting the whole world.”

Boostly is helping small hospitality businesses navigate the coronavirus pandemic in four ways:

  1. The Hospitality Community Facebook Group is the “fastest growing, most engaged group” providing support and hospitality industry updates for over 5,000 business owners.
  2. Website creation, design and services adapted with modern technology.
  3. Photography, virtual tours and collaborations with social media agencies for digital marketing.
  4. The Boostly Academy is the largest paid membership group for hospitality owners where Mark Simpson and other experts teach marketing tactics, Q&As and hold group calls.

Ed Davies, founder of marketing consultancy Raising The Bar Group for pubs and hospitality venues, said: “Mark Simpson works tirelessly to make digital marketing easy for Boostly members to implement. Researching these grants and helping his members through the application process is one example of how he goes the extra distance.”

Kickstart grant is a “non-starter”

Small grants [£1,000 – £5,000] are on offer for businesses to access specialist professional advice such as marketing, digital / IT and legal services or to purchase equipment to adapt or adopt technology.

But the eligibility criteria is not even known in some parts of England.

Christine Bennet, owner of Burgate Farmhouse in Hampshire [Solent Growth Hub], said: “The chances of securing anything were very slim [the statistics were very depressing]. They will just be way over subscribed. Sadly I think this is going to be a non-starter.”

Linda O’Rourke, the owner of Herons Rest Properties Ltd in Surrey [Coast to Capital Hub / M3 Enterprise Hub] said she would not have known about the grants without the Hospitality Community.

Lancashire Growth Hub opened the Kickstart Tourism Grant applications on 5 September but businesses were told not to apply for multiple sources of funding.

Ian White, owner of The Chorlton, Blackpool, said: “The business grants were heavily oversubscribed. Anyone that applied for both are more than likely to be excluded from both.”

Hospitality business owners said they have felt let down by other LEP Growth Hubs, including Cornwall & Isles of Scilly, Swindon & Wiltshire, Humber, Cheshire and Warrington, and Greater Birmingham and Solihull.

The hospitality industry is “on its knees”

Simpson said: “I truly believe the government made the announcement for good PR and then did nothing about it. They just put it on the back burner. From the start, it was evident people hadn’t heard about it and each local growth hub opened grant applications without informing local businesses or doing any local PR and closed applications as soon as possible. 

“The hospitality industry is on its knees. The tourism industry provides billions and billions of pounds to the government on a yearly basis and they need to be looking after hospitality businesses better on a local level,” he added.

He suggested that the grants should have been handled better with a central website for the whole of England, clearer instructions for all areas and funding administered at the same time.

The Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, Simon Clark MP, said the Kickstart Tourism Grant will “help ensure tourist hot-spots are firmly open for business” when he announced the scheme on 3 July.

“Kick-starting domestic tourism will be key to our economic recovery,” he added.

For more information, visit the Boostly website or contact Simpson at mark@boostly.co.uk.