UK: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has unveiled plans for the nation to exit lockdown in a “one-way road to freedom”, with hotels, pubs and restaurants permitted to open indoors from 17 May.
Speaking to the Commons, Johnson delivered the government’s plans for the gradual easing of lockdown measures over the coming months. The success of each step will be determined by the data on vaccines, infection rates and new coronavirus variants.
If the data allows, on 12 April outdoor hospitality and takeaway, shops, gyms and hairdresser will be allowed to reopen with the rule of six in place. The 10pm curfew for venues as well as the requirement for ordering alcohol with a substantial meal will also be dropped.
A review of international leisure travel restrictions are to be announced by 12 April at the earliest.
From 17 May, the rule of six is to be abolished for outdoor gatherings and replaced with a limit of 30 people. Indoors, the rule of six will apply to hospitality settings like pubs. Hotels, cinemas, performances and sporting events will be allowed to reopen under social distancing guidelines.
If all criteria is met at each stage, it is possible that the legal limits on social contact could be be lifted by 21 June.
Aaron Belton, head of global hospitality at DocMX, commented: “What this announcement gives us is the benefit of time to plan and prepare. Hotels cannot be expected to reopen business as usual and it’s imperative that there is a strategic roadmap to reopening. How well hotels prepare now will future-proof them for long-term survival.
“The industry has spent too long in limbo and each lockdown has set the sector back further. We’ve now had 12 months and several lockdowns to learn from, and hotels have 12 weeks to prepare as best they can for a careful and gradual return.
“This means preparing for a reality of low occupancy – as low as 20 per cent – and what that means for resourcing and cost efficiency. It means evaluating business efficiency and profitability. It means remaining competitive against other hotels who’ve taken the steps to modernise and streamline their processes during lockdown.”
Neil Pattison, director at Caterer.com, said: “Despite their rigour and focus in implementing successful Covid-secure protocols, it is frustrating to see that restaurants and bars will be slow to fully re-open compared to other businesses. Studies have shown that with the right systems in place, hospitality businesses have extremely low transmission rates. The sector is raring to go, leading the way for trading responsibly and introducing procedures which ensure the safety of staff and customers. Equally, customers are keen to return and enjoy hospitality venues, and this will positively impact both the economy and mental wellbeing in the UK. As the vaccine programme continues at pace and data allows, an earlier full reopening should be considered for hospitality venues as outdoor operation is simply not feasible for so many businesses.
“Alongside this, it’s crucial that government support continues to protect jobs in hospitality. It’s clear social distancing will be in place for the foreseeable future, and many businesses will continue to struggle to remain viable as their capacity to serve customers will be reduced.”
Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound, said: “We’re really pleased the Prime Minister has listened to the industry and included international inbound tourism in the roadmap. It is critical the government consults with industry when preparing its review on reopening international travel.
“As part of its review, we would ask the government to work with the devolved nations, as a fragmented approach will hinder recovery. To save summer business, the government needs to move quickly as it will take time for consumers to regain confidence to book a holiday and for the industry to prepare. It’s clear we are still months away from restarting international travel, and many more months before we see a significant recovery, and the industry therefore needs continued support.
“For our sector to survive long enough to support the economic recovery, we’re asking the Chancellor to retain furlough as long as restrictions are in place, issue sector specific grants and extend Business Rate Relief when he announces the Budget on the March 3.”
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “It is extremely welcome to see a specific review into international travel and how that can return. This will be critical to the recovery of the hospitality sector and we look forward to contributing to this review.
“A major package of financial support is imperative if hospitality is to survive. The Prime Minister says the reopening schedule is driven by data, yet all the data points to hospitality being relatively safe and linked to only a tiny number of cases. Vaccinations and the fall in infection rates has de-risked our reopening even further. This delay in reopening will make the job of survival all the more difficult for businesses only just clinging on to existence.
“The job for the government now is to make sure our sector survives this further period of closure. The Chancellor has just nine days to save thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
Prior to the Prime Minister’s Covid-19 roadmap statement, Merilee Karr, chair of the UK Short Term Accommodation Association [STAA] and CEO own UnderTheDoormat, made the following statement:
“The Prime Minister’s roadmap is a very welcome sign that good progress has been made in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and for society to start planning a return to a more ‘normal life’.
“Whilst we appreciate the need to be careful about when and how the hospitality industry, and specifically the accommodation sector, reopens, we also need to make sure that no business is disadvantaged in the meantime and that we work together to make 2021 a year to make up as much of the lost ground caused by the pandemic as we can.
“We have four specific asks of Government:
- That all short-term rentals businesses are supported financially – not just until they can fully reopen but until all restrictions are removed [including international travel restrictions]. This means they must be eligible for grant funding and not omitted on technicalities as happened last year.
- That it recognises short term rental properties are a very Covid-safe and secure type of accommodation for people to holiday in because they enable easy social distancing and the properties themselves will have been cleaned in accordance with industry-wide cleaning protocols introduced in collaboration with government last year. Short-term rentals provide a ‘home-from-home experience’ that many people are looking for and allow for other Covid-safe behaviours such as home deliveries of groceries or meals and not mixing with people outside of a family bubble. For these reasons, short-term rentals should be regarded as one of the first, if not the first, accommodation types to be allowed to take bookings again.
- That the sector gets a good notice period to be able to prepare properly for accepting guests once more. Our members have indicated that a period of three weeks’ notice would be favoured enabling them to prepare their properties, book supplies and give guests adequate time to make their bookings.
- That it provides consumers and business owners with clear and consistent messages about what is and isn’t allowed. We want to help our sector to recover strongly and responsibly. To help make this achievable, we need Government communications to be precise and to minimise the opportunity for different interpretations. We would be more than happy to engage with Government representatives to help shape the communications strategy to give all of us the best chance to return the UK to one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world.”