Only hotels that have used this time off wisely are likely to survive

Anna Hart
·4 min read
Blue Apple Beach House, Cartagena
Blue Apple Beach House, Cartagena

There is one universal truth about the lockdown: it has changed us all. Even my friends who lost loved ones and livelihoods seem determined to learn from lockdown, to carry some of the skills, habits, hobbies and realisations of the pandemic into our new (old) lives.

This might be as profound as patching up old family feuds or rethinking a career path, or as simple as perfecting a banana bread recipe or taking up yoga. As for me, I’ve learnt to make friends with people who are learning how to bake, a life lesson I hope to pass on to my descendants. 

The travel industry also had to accept a formerly unthinkable pause. And, like us, most hotels, campsites, rental properties and restaurants are hoping to emerge from the coronavirus chrysalis new and improved, ready to impress. 

This is partly because they need to impress us; the world faces complete economic uncertainty and only the fittest hotels will survive. And although I don’t want to kick a man when he’s down, we can all think of hotels that definitely needed to “reset”.

Every traveller has slept in an uncomfortable or bafflingly designed hotel room that left us doubting that anyone running the hotel had ever stayed in it. We’ve eaten in restaurants where the staff acted like they were doing us an enormous favour. We’ve been squashed into crowded breakfast rooms, kept waiting in lobbies, subjected to the strange and arbitrary rules of cruise ships and campsites.

So I can’t shed a tear for the hotels and restaurants having to rethink a maximum-capacity business model that plainly put profits first, with little thought for the health of staff, the happiness of guests, and wider impact on the local community and environment. 

In my hometown of Margate, a seaside town that has relied heavily on tourism since the Victorian era, most restaurateurs and hoteliers are surprisingly positive. Kelly Love opened the downstairs bar of her pub-with-rooms, The George & Heart, in November last year, intending to spend the winter months frantically refurbishing eight guest rooms to open in May. 

“Lockdown came as a huge shock, but it gave my partner, Dan, and I time to rethink what we want The George & Heart to be, rather than rushing every decision. We collaborated with local designers who designed individual rooms – and our designers suddenly had much more free time to devote to the project,” she says.

“Also, as we considered social-distancing measures, we decided to offer just six bedrooms, and add a private bar area and treatment room for guests.” The pub is currently offering bottled negronis and other cocktails for delivery, and in July they’ll serve customers outside, from a caravan that has been converted into a bar and food service area. 

There are huge challenges ahead for the hospitality industry, but putting guests first is one every business owner should be willing to embrace. “I genuinely think we’ll be opening a much better hotel, one that positively impacts the local community,” says Love. 

Portia Hart, who runs Blue Apple Beach House in Cartagena, Colombia, is equally positive. “It goes without saying that upgraded hygiene measures, biosecurity and digital check-in are part of our reopening plan,” she says. “But quarantine gave us the time for a complete overhaul of our supply chain.” 

From housekeeping products to food and beverage, Hart and her staff spent the past three months assessing every product or supplier from an environmental, sociocultural, ethical and financial impact. “We aren’t perfect, far from it, but the Blue Apple has become a conscious consumer and we now know the origin and impact of everything we buy,” she says. The process was smoother than she expected, too.

“Because everyone was in the same boat, with more time on their hands, meat, seafood, dairy and cleaning products were easy to sub out for local and ethical/ecological suppliers,” she says. 

As we emerge from lockdown to a decimated economy, every pound we spend is a vote for the sort of travel industry we want to see in the future. So I pity the hotels that haven’t taken this lengthy hiatus as an opportunity to rethink radically how they treat guests, how they treat the local community, and how they treat the planet. 

My first boss, a Glaswegian pub-owner, would regularly growl, “I could run a perfect pub if all these pesky customers stopped getting in my way.” Well, we pesky customers have given the travel industry a break. Post-lockdown, let’s see what we return to.