If you sat me down two years ago and told me I would be awarded Surrey Business Person of the Year in 12 months’ time, I would have laughed at you. If you had told me that in two years’ time we would be where we are now, I would have had security escort you off the premises. Yet here we are. In the midst of the worst period the hospitality industry has seen in many a generation and, of course, a worldwide pandemic.
As a group of three independent hotels and an exclusive party venue, we have not been an exception to the industry’s recent hardship. We have had to re-evaluate our business from top to bottom in order to continue operating and to secure a future for our venues and our staff. Sadly, this restructuring has meant a number of long-term employees were made redundant and those remaining have had to learn new skills in order to cover the gaps; something I’m exceptionally thankful to the team for doing with such understanding.
Since the country went into lockdown back in March we have had to keep a close eye on every aspect of the government’s latest rules and regulations. As you all know these change so frequently that it has almost become a full-time job just keeping up with them. All our venues are primarily focused around the successful running of both public and private events, such as weddings, parties and conferences. All of them have been heavily impacted by these regulations and increased the need for us to adapt as a business.
As we began to lift our heads above the water back in July, we started focussing on the rejuvenated staycation market. Starting with Hartsfield Manor, we admittedly reduced our rates and partnered up with a number of popular voucher websites with the hope of achieving occupancy rates of around 30-40%. We were staggered by the public’s desire to break free from the homes they had been locked in for so long, and couldn’t believe it when we had occupancy rates of over 70%.
It was these fantastic results that led us to reopen Reigate Manor at the beginning of August. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen quite the same resurgence as we have at Hartsfield Manor. This was perhaps down to the developing government guidance but most certainly not helped by the closure of Reigate Hill. If you think trying to encourage guests to leave their homes during a pandemic is hard enough, try telling them they may need to add a 26-mile diversion to their journey.
Despite the public’s desire to get out and about, it is clear that a challenging winter lies ahead. It is commonplace for many in the hospitality industry to struggle through the early months of the year. But usually, there would have been a storming Christmas period to carry them through. The 10 o’clock curfew, the Rule of Six, and the public’s confusion over what they can and cannot do has put a huge dent in.
However, this doesn’t mean Christmas is off this year. Far from it. Our three hotels, for example, have a bumper Christmas offering. Lunch and dinner reservations, as well as festive afternoon teas, are all available throughout December. Not forgetting lunch on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and a six-course feast for your New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Like us, the entire hospitality industry has invested heavily in ensuring our venues are safe for the public to return to. From the moment we reopened we have tripled our efforts to improve cleanliness throughout and followed every piece of advice we can get our hands on.
All team members wear face masks from the moment they clock in until they leave the building at the end of their shift. Protective screens are in place wherever we can put them and hand sanitiser bottles are on each and every table in our public areas. All this has meant we are as safe as we possibly can be. And this is just the start. We will continue to invest in these safety measures for as long as we need to.
And it is here where the general public come in. More than any other industry, hospitality is reliant on people coming out to enjoy themselves. Now more than ever it is vitally important that we do what we can to help our local bars, restaurants and hotels where we can. Eat out, stay overnight and enjoy these establishments by following the guidance set out by the government and the individual business.
I do not wish to get into a fight over who is or who isn’t to blame for the spread of this virus but currently, the hospitality industry is being used as a scapegoat for something that has very little to do with us. And now with the latest nationwide lockdown in place, I urge you to support your local venue when they are finally allowed to reopen, hopefully in time for Christmas. Stay safe, follow the guidance and enjoy our industry like we intend it to be enjoyed.
Giles Thomas, Operations Director