Alongside the various, costly Covid-compliant protocols the new Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill has implemented, when the hotel opens in the capital on September 7 it will introduce a new Discover Marylebone package, aimed at locals and offering privileged access to the district’s galleries, boutiques and landmarks.
It’s one of a slew of new initiatives intended to encourage Britons to become reacquainted with the quietened capital, but for London hotels the impetus for introducing such offerings is grave and potentially ruinous. The evaporation of the international market, particularly in relation to business travel, and ongoing confusion about quarantine being imposed on arrivals to the UK is causing havoc for the city’s hospitality industry. As Telegraph Travel launches its new Test4Travel campaign, urging the government to roll out affordable Covid-19 tests on arrivals at UK airports and ports by Christmas, some of the city’s top hoteliers have spoken about the unprecedented challenges they face as winter approaches.
Arnaud De Saint-Exupery, Manager of Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill, is frank about the position the property is in: from September to November, occupancy should ordinarily be around 80 per cent; this year that figure is hovering at around 10 per cent. Foreign corporate travel, he says, has stalled completely and group travel is “gone”, so they are particularly reliant on leisure clientele “who won’t book a ticket if a quarantine is potentially coming through.”
Part of the Rocco Forte Hotels group, Mayfair’s Brown’s Hotel has launched a new partnership with Pashley Cycles to encourage the domestic market to explore the capital, but hotel manager Stuart Johnson knows such initiatives won’t be enough to make up for the loss of international visitors – more than half of the hotel’s guests come from America and continental Europe: “We require the government to set safe air bridges and testing at the point of entry to eliminate the need for quarantine.”
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With its portfolio of upmarket British properties including Chewton Glen and Cliveden, Iconic Luxury Hotels has observed a marked juxtaposition in the resilience of its countryside hotels compared to its Chelsea property 11 Cadogan Gardens. Their executive director Andrew Stembridge has noted that as soon as a new country is added to the UK restricted list a significant volume of travel from that country is lost. Last August, visitors from China, Brazil, Australia and the Middle East made up about 15 per cent of the London property’s clientele. This year those customers have vanished.
Circumstances are also challenging at Rosewood London, which welcomed 20 guests on the morning of its September 1 reopening. Over the coming months occupancy is expected to reach about 25 per cent versus a typical rate of 80 per cent. Expanding across the hotel’s grand courtyard, a new Nyetimber Terrace will cater to guests who would like an open-air, socially distanced drinking and dining experience, though director of sales and marketing Mike Bonner says the hotel’s ordinarily popular Scarfe’s Bar isn’t expected to reopen until October, when more workers are likely to return to their offices.
The impact this rupture to tourism will have on London’s and the country’s economy will be immense. The capital’s trade, investment and promotion agency London & Partners documented that 21.7 million visits were made to London from overseas in 2019, with those arrivals making up 65 per cent of overnight trips to the city and spending £15.7 billion. Through 2020, Visit Britain expects inbound visits to the UK to decline by 73 per cent and for inbound spend to decline by 79 per cent (equating to a loss of 30.7 million visits and £24 billion spending).
With more than 80 per cent of its clientele ordinarily visiting from abroad, The Beaumont is another hotel particularly affected by the current policy and has yet to confirm its reopening date. For Jannes Soerensen, the hotel’s manager, “the government has created too much uncertainty and no traveller coming from abroad has the time or inclination… to go into quarantine for two weeks prior to starting work meetings or their vacation. We are currently in a chicken and egg situation – with no tourists (and no office workers) it is not sustainable for many of London’s businesses to either open, or, if they have opened, to remain open. And with nothing open, London is less appealing as a destination.”
At Four Seasons’ Park Lane hotel, manager Lynn Brutman has noticed “a few small positive signs” of recovery, but still occupancy is more than 50 per cent below normal levels and staff are eager to fully get to work: “We are more than ready to welcome everyone back. We are an industry that thrives on engaging with people and the energy of the guest, so any measures that can be put in place to encourage more travel to London would be eagerly supported by all.”
It is a sentiment reiterated by Red Carnation Hotels’ managing director Jonathan Raggett. Normally 70 per cent of the guests at the collection’s London properties come from overseas, and the absence of international guests “has of course hit us hard. It goes without saying that we welcome any measures that allow us to safely encourage the overseas travelling market back to London.”