STAA calls on Rishi Sunak for additional government support

UK: Merilee Karr, chair of the UK Short Term Accommodation Association [ STAA ] and CEO of UnderTheDoormat, has written to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, on behalf of STAA members asking for visitor accommodation businesses to be given additional government support as it faces into an autumn and winter season where tighter travel and hospitality restrictions will impact jobs and businesses.

Karr said: “We are pleased that the government will expand the Job Support Scheme to cover businesses who are forced to close due to government restrictions. It’s also critical that the Chancellor recognises that many visitor accommodation businesses will be negatively affected if other sectors of the hospitality industry, such as pubs and restaurants, are forced to close to comply with government restrictions and should, therefore, be included amongst those companies that can access the scheme.

“The closure of large swathes of the hospitality sector in specific geographic locations will cause a massive downturn in demand for visitor accommodation, which will seriously reduce demand for many businesses,” she added.

The letter from the STAA explains that if visitor accommodation businesses are not forced to close, they cannot then benefit from the Job Support Scheme or other reliefs whilst simultaneously not having any demand due to government restrictions, including the quarantine restrictions, the “Rule of Six” and now hospitality closures in over half of the country, including London.

Most businesses in the sector have already retrenched as far as they are able to, keeping on essential staff so that they can spring back into action once demand picks up again in the spring and summer of 2021. The combined impact of the virus and government lockdown policies on travel, means they need support through any period where the government is actively restricting demand for tourist accommodation.

Visitor accommodation exists within a broader hospitality ecosystem which includes restaurants, bars and visitor attractions. If significant elements of this infrastructure are shut down, then the demand for visitor accommodation also disappears, irrespective of whether visitor accommodation businesses are forced to close.

Closing some parts of the hospitality sector, but not others, destroys the demand for visitor accommodation without making it eligible for much of the support that businesses which have been forced to close can access.

The UK’s short-term rental sector leads the way globally and accounts for a substantial proportion of the country’s accommodation sector. It contributes significantly to a staycation sector which was set to add £25 billion to the UK economy prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The STAA argues that the government has a duty to protect this valuable sector so that when restrictions lift the industry will be in a position to rebuild.

Karr concluded: “It is imperative that the government ensures that short-term rental businesses are included in any existing or forthcoming reliefs that may accompany further lockdown restrictions. Without such intervention, great and viable businesses alike will be impacted.

“Allowing businesses to shut in the short-term will have damaging consequences in the long-term. Demand for travel to the UK will return, and when it does, the UK will need the accommodation provided by the short-term rental sector to drive tourism growth.

“If our industry has support through this winter, it will be in a good position to bounce back when the demand picks up again. Without any additional government support, we are concerned that the industry will not be able to deliver on its potential.

“Instead, we are likely to see redundancies, after which the UK’s tourism economy will lack the necessary muscle memory to begin operating at capacity once more in the next summer season.

“Our sector has proven how it is prepared to innovate and adapt when we launched the NHS Homes Scheme earlier this year. This initiative offered free accommodation to key NHS workers to enable them to stay close to the hospitals they worked in so that they could avoid the risk of taking Covid-19 back to their families.

“This accommodation is normally rented out to tourists and holidaymakers. We have continued to innovate and will soon be launching a new scheme based on NHS Homes called Trusted Stays, where a centralised portal will offer NHS and Government workers access to Covid-safe and clean accommodation when they are relocated or travel to their places of work,” she added.