Although it is hoped that travel restrictions will be eased by the summer, international travel amid the coronavirus pandemic is an increasingly less attractive prospect for holidaymakers.
Operators hope this will result in a ‘staycation boom’ and are excited to be able to reopen their pubs with rooms this summer. However, others said they were worried about the impact of reduced visitors from overseas.
“Guests can avoid the need for invasive Covid testing, the worry of losing money on expensive flights, or the need for lengthy quarantines upon your return,” Richard Palmer, managing director of inn-operator Devonshire Hotels & Restaurants Group, said.
While the operator is anticipating some challenges along the way in the form of Government restrictions, Palmer said the company has learnt from adapting to previous rules such as the curfew and rule of six.
Palmer added: “In 2020, we saw pent-up demand and a dramatic increase in bookings from our opening announcement following the first lockdown. We hope, and indeed anticipate, that the same will happen this year. We also predict that our guests will spend more than usual – with the safety and convenience of our restaurants and bars influencing their decision to dine and drink with us.”
Accommodation website Stay in a Pub said its website traffic indicates that people are “actively searching” for pubs with rooms.
“They are doing their research and making plans but uncertainty can hold them back from finalising their booking,” a spokesperson for the website said.
“We are encouraging our pubs to promote total flexibility on bookings and free cancellation policies. The promise of flexibility is an opportunity to build consumer confidence now to secure future loyalty.
“We firmly believe that domestic travel will be in high demand once local restrictions are lifted and the mass-vaccination programme is well underway. With continued restrictions on overseas travel and quarantine rules, people will be sticking to destinations closer to home.”
Ryan Stacey, operator at the Pheasant Highclere, Hampshire, hopes there will be the same response to reopening as with last summer. “We had a great response and if that continues then we think we will be able to make it through and put ourselves in a strong position going into 2022,” he added.
“People will still be nervous about travelling abroad, plus the added restrictions in place will be off putting but therefore beneficial to the UK hospitality industry. People will need to see and do something else other than stay in their own four walls.”
The operator said further Government support was “essential to our survival and success”, such as an extension to the VAT cut and business rates holiday.
Roy David, director of North-Devon based David Inns was less optimistic.
He said: “I question whether the highly publicised anticipated ‘staycation boom’, will indeed compensate for the loss of overseas visitors we see each year. To what level will the reopening of lockdown be affected by the financial constraints and job losses that communities all over the UK have suffered?
“The coastline in North Devon is extremely popular for its surfing. Going forward 2021’s success may well depend on many factors. Weather for the surfers, for which we have no control.”
Even a “booming 2021” would not be enough to “rectify the trade,” David added.
Could pubs be used as quarantine hotels?
UK residents returning from several ‘red list’ nations will soon be instructed to quarantine in Government-allocated hotels for ten days.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has also said the Government will introduce a new requirement so that people wishing to travel in the third lockdown must first declare their ‘essential reasons’ for travelling.
Could pubs be involved in the Goverment-quarantine scheme?
A spokesperson for Stay in a Pub weighs in. "This is an interesting idea and those pubs with separate accommodation such as shepherds huts, cabins, converted barns/stables etc. may well be perfect for quarantine arrangements – away from the main pub but with catering and other guest services freely available," they added.
"We have seen a substantial number of pubs use the periods of closure to actually increase their room capacity, often through these separate units."
Offering to host quarantine facilities is a fantastic opportunity for landlords to introduce the unique experience of staying in a pub to inbound tourists who many not of otherwise considered this way to stay. ”