Breakfast in your room, weddings without a band, and bars for residents only are some of the changes hotel guests may see when venues reopen in July.
Hotels are preparing to reopen their doors on July 20 as part of the fourth phase of easing Covid-19 restrictions, after roughly four months of being closed.
Despite getting the go-ahead to open, the industry is worried about how they will cope alongside Covid-19.
Many fear traditional hotel experiences, like buffet breakfasts and weddings, will have to go.
Cork city’s Hayfield Manor is known for catering to celebrities. However, the hotel’s staff will have to rethink how to deliver this five-star service in the era of Covid-19.
Brightly coloured floor markings and staff wearing surgical masks won’t work, says Ettienne van Vrede, the CEO of the Hayfield Family Collection of Hotels. The collection comprises Hayfield Manor in Cork and the Great Southern Killarney and the Killarney Royal in Co Kerry.
“I’ve got a sample of one of these perspex screens for the Great Southern, I put it up, and it just does not look right.”
A team has been set up within the three properties to work on reopening. A big part of this has been collaborating with other hotel managers in Ireland, as well as looking to other parts of Europe where most countries are ahead of Ireland in lifting their lockdowns.
“The customers want to see that we are doing our part to keep them and our employees safe. But they are coming for the experience of Hayfield Manor as well. I just can’t see someone at the front desk behind a screen wearing a face mask, with these yellow bright stickers on the ground.
“We are going to take that model and [adapt] it, but it still has to be in line with the HSE and WHO [guidelines]. So rather than screens, we could have a rope at the front desk, so there is still that two metre distance. Rather than wearing masks, we are talking about wearing face coverings. Just to make it a little more subtle.”
As for signs, Mr van Vrede says having them displayed on easels, with the Hayfield Manor logo, will work better.
Lower occupancy to keep in line with social distancing regulations is another big concern.
Mr van Vrede says their occupancy estimates for July and August are “quite conservative”.
The last thing they want to do is open up and receive no business.
“We are going to have to review that as we get closer to July 20. The seasons are shorter now. The American market would have been the biggest market in the summer for Hayfield Manor.”
Seamus Leahy of hotel consultancy firm Invite Resorts said that the reality for most hotels is that international visitors will not travel for a while ...
“certainly not in great numbers and corporate guests will not be travelling because of health issues.”
Mr Leahy, who previously worked in the Fota Island Resort and Kingsley hotels in Cork, said coupled with less turnover in the restaurants, gyms, spas and bars, it is clear the challenges hotels are facing.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is different than the economic crisis the hotel sector faced in 2008 and 2009. We saw then that the world recovered more quickly than Ireland so we were able to ‘import’
recovery, but that will be more difficult this time around as the entire globe is impacted. It all looks negative but if you are aware of all these challenges you can navigate through them.
“It could mean changing your product mix, how you sell, who you target. For some, it could mean holding off reopening until next March. The sector will need to embrace the new world we are living in.”
As well as overnight guests, the hotel bar and restaurant along with weddings and other functions form key parts of their offerings and all will be impacted.
In the restaurant at the Hayfield Manor, the tables have already been spaced out by two metres.
“You end up with half of the tables now. It’s not as profitable and there comes the break- even point,” Mr van Vrede said.
As for bigger events like weddings, he said there are still no clearcut guidelines.
“For larger events, they are talking about a date of August 10, phase five. As of yet, they haven’t given us a number that we can facilitate. If you look at the WHO guidelines, they have given the recommendation of one person per square metre.
“If that is the case, I would be much more optimistic than the two metres.
“If we bring two metres into it, for the weddings in the Great Southern, it just doesn’t make it feasible. We measured it out, we would only be able to facilitate a wedding of 125 guests in a room that can take 650. Most of our weddings would be between 250 and 300 people.”
The guests’ perspective must also be considered.
“Who will they invite? They will either postpone the wedding completely or it would just be immediate families. That’s where I would see somewhere like Hayfield or a Blue Book property come into it,” he said.
He also believes a wide-reaching stimulus package will be needed to support the industry, especially if they will be operating at a reduced capacity. “We can’t do this on our own.”
Neil Grant, general manager of the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery, says they have a Covid-19 team working on plans to reopen, as well as developing procedures.
“We will have to have various PPE, and also measures which can put the guests at ease.”
The Celtic Ross conducted a survey with 100 regular guests, and the main finding was that the majority did not want the hotel to feel “overcrowded”, and social distancing was most important to them.
Many guests wanted assurances that there wouldn’t be too many guests there at one time.
“There weren’t as many people saying they wanted perspex screens and gloves. There were a lot of questions about bed linens, how to make sure those are safe. We are looking at how to safely clean the bedrooms, whether that is vacating it for 48 hours and then doing a deep clean,” days Mr Grant.
The capacity of the hotel will likely be reduced by half. Mr Grant says they are hoping to come up with a new value-added pricing strategy, whereby guests get “more bang for their buck.”.
“They may get robes on demand, water in their bedroom while we may need to charge a tiny bit more, we want to make sure something is added to the experience,” he said.
As for breakfast, which is often a busy and crowded experience, the Celtic Ross is planning on waiving its tray charge, so guests will be able to get breakfast delivered to their room free of charge. “People were a bit nervous about breakfast, the surge at 9.30 or 10am.”
The hotel will be strictly reservations only, so that occupancy can be calculated and staffing can be planned accordingly. There will also be a resident-only section of the hotel, so they will have their own private space for relaxation during the day.
Mr Grant is planning to reopen the restaurant in June, to see how that can operate and have just reopened their artisanal foodtruck for takeaway on the grounds of the hotel.
“That will be open into the summer months. We invested heavily in our outdoor areas and seating last year, so we will make the most of them.
“The guests will be able to eat outdoors and not feel like they are in a crowded room,” he said.
As for larger-scale events, Mr Grant says it is difficult to speculate in the absence of clear occupancy guidelines.
“I wonder will the after-meal wedding band become a thing of the past... how can there be a band or dancing if there needs to be one or two metres distance?”
He said the weddings may focus more on the meal, with entertainment during it.
Mr Grant says the industry will need continued support, especially while operating at a reduced capacity.
“There is real concern because if we do get open and have a reduced summer, then were are going into the winter, and that was always the problem.”