Hotels move to essential services

York, England

Demand for hotels in the UK will now be driven by demand for accommodation for NHS staff, police and military, as well for car parks and storage.

Those working on the project said that the search for hotels was focused on beds, rather than full-service sites.

The government has now forced the closure hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, campsites, caravan parks, and boarding houses for commercial/leisure use (excluding permanent residents and key workers). All hotels, hostels, and B&Bs providing rooms to support people who are homeless through arrangements with local authorities and other public bodies – should remain open and are not affected by the guidance issued by the government.

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Ciaran Bird, divisional president, CBRE Advisory Services, CEO, UK & Ireland, said that the group had been working with the NHS: “to satisfy immediate need for additional premises and parking facilities. We are seeking to identify suitable properties within close proximity to an NHS or private hospital which could be occupied by the NHS for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The greatest needs at the current time are car parking to enable NHS staff to access hospitals quickly, overnight beds for staff and storage facilities within a 15-minute walk of an NHS hospital.”

CBRE has created a working group to co-ordinate this effort and the company has asked those in the sector whether they have unoccupied or vacant property which might be suitable for occupation by the NHS.  Those with opportunities were asked to contact [email protected]

Thomas Page, global head of hotel & leisure group, CMS, told us: “Now that there has been the order to close, most hotels will close tomorrow morning (25th March). We are making progress with the help of CBRE and have seen the remit broaden to include a wider variety of properties, including car parks and storage. We had thought that the NHS would have had the same demands as in Ireland, where they focused on full-service hotels, but here there has been more interest in just having overnight beds.

“There are a number of issues with using the hotels: if you have a number of parties - operators, landlords, franchisors - where does the consent come from. There are also liability issues, for example, if you are using a car park but there are no staff checking for pot holes, what happens with trips and slips? Will the government indemnify for that? There are also planning issues over change of use, which you would hope the government would overlook in times like these.

“There are also staffing issues; would you send staff into these environments? Would they want to go? Maybe they’d rather not take the risk?

“If your hotel is requisitioned, then it is less of an issue, your hotel will be taken over, much as though there was a block booking. I don’t think this distinguishes between a compulsory requisition of the property (where the HS/government would have to operate the property) and a block booking where the government just wants to act as a single exclusive corporate customer and the owner/operator continues to manage the hotel and provide services to the government/NHS employees who are staying there.”

Did Page anticipate any reticence on the part of the public in using a hotel which had been a hospital? “In most cases the NHS does not seem to be seeking to use hotels for hospitals or to house patients, but for staff accommodation, at least at this stage. Experience from other countries suggests that even where they have been used as patient accommodation, so many properties are used that the public lack of memory will not be able to distinguish in the future between those that were or were not used to house patients.”

Of those hotels to have come forward already, Best Western Great Britain has offered 15,000 beds and more than 1,000 meeting rooms to NHS staff, care workers, families, low-risk patients and over 70-year-olds.

Andrew Denton, head of hotel services, Best Western Great Britain, said: “We would urge the wider hospitality industry to join our cause too. We are serious about helping reduce the number of deaths. 20,000 is too many. If our rooms and our support can be part of the solution that brings that figure down, then we will have done our job.”

Insight: With the public in the UK unlikely to be so much as staycationing for the next three weeks at least, hotels have been looking at what options they have, as occupancy is now at a mandatory 0%. As Page pointed out to us last week, time is of the essence. It’s easier to keep a hotel open than reopen a hotel.

While the UK government has said that it will step in and pay 80% of wages for full-time employees, this will not be in place until the end of next month, which is too much for many hotels to sustain. So the shuttering was already underway before Boris Johnson decided that the public wasn’t shutting itself away with due restraint, bringing the country in line with much of the rest of Europe.

For those which are still open, most driven by altruism rather than the chance to keep the money coming in, there are a growing number of options available and these are not just related to the NHS. There are others in need who might seem like, sadly, less appetising occupants, in the form of the homeless. The government has announced £3.2m to help rough sleepers self-isolate, having identified the need for up to 45,000 “self-contained accommodation spaces”.

After years of hotels being seen as outside communities, just somewhere for those from Elsewhere to stay, here is a chance to prove the sector’s worth.