The UKHospitality trade body has this week welcomed the launch of the Scottish government’s Hotel Support Scheme, while highlighting the need for further support for the industry from both Holyrood and Westminster.
The Scottish government says that the purpose of the Hotel Support Scheme is to protect sustainable employment in the medium term within larger hotels in Scotland.
The new programme offers tailored wrap-around business support from agencies including Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, South of Scotland Enterprise and VisitScotland. The agencies will work with Skills Development Scotland and local authorities to develop an integrated and tailored support package, which will then help a targeted number of hotels invest and adapt in a way that protects locally important jobs in the medium to long term.
UKHospitality’s executive director for Scotland, Willie Macleod, said: “The opening of the Hotel Support Programme is a welcome boost for the sector and a positive sign of intent from the Scottish government. The Scottish government consulted closely with UKHospitality on the design of the scheme to ensure it focuses on the businesses that need help the most and to encourage as wide as possible participation.”
However, Macleod stressed that the scheme had to be followed up with further action.
He added: “This needs to the first step on the road to recovery, not the final one. Hospitality businesses remain in rescue mode despite reopening over a month ago. There is still a lot more that can and should be done to support Scottish hotels and the wider tourism and hospitality sectors that are so vitally important to the Scottish economy.
“Rents are still a huge issue for many businesses, notably casual dining, and we are going to need both fiscal and non-fiscal support to get through the crisis, probably in the form of a grant combined with a further extension of the moratorium on lease irritation. The business rates holiday and VAT cut both need to be extended and businesses will need help if they are expected to hire and retain workers following the end of the furlough arrangement for staff at the end of October.
“The Hotel Support Programme is a welcome step in the right direction. We hope it is followed by further, more extensive support from both UK and Scottish governments to help the industry get back on its feet and keep as many jobs safe as possible.”
While there are still concerns over the sector and jobs as government support does begin to wind down, some in the sector are willing to maintain a brave face and be hopeful about the future.
One industry operator with such an attitude is Robert Harwood, director of the Portland Hotel in the Derbyshire spa town of Buxton.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic putting a significant amount of strain on his business, Harwood is determined to remain defiant and believes the hospitality sector can draw inspiration from the way the education sector has handled the situation.
Speaking on the Leaders Council podcast, Harwood said: “Of course, at the end of March we were anticipating a busy year with a strong spring and summer, and the news of the hospitality industry shutdown came as a blow. Our business began disappearing, the Buxton Opera House also had to close and tourism from that was a key part of our business. Within a fortnight, cancellations were flying in and it put some real strain on us.
“We have all had to use our own initiative in our industry. It is so easy to say that guidelines aren’t clear, and the situation is hopeless but common sense and initiative can help us through this. I think schools for example have been so dynamic in how they have dealt with reopening, while others in various industries have simply said it is an impossible task. This is not the right message to spread, particularly to aspiring young people. You want to be inspired to believe that you can do anything, and there has been some amazing initiative shown in the education industry that has been a real eye opener across the board not just in hospitality, but everywhere.”
Buoyed by hope, Harwood is daring to be optimistic about the future of his business.
“We took a proactive approach during lockdown of decorating the hotel and smartening it up before the reopening to keep ourselves busy. Then as we looked to get the business back up and running, we were aggressive with our pricing and advertising. A lot of hotels have been opening up with empty bookings almost like brand new businesses, so there is a lot of choice for customers and we knew we had to put our name out there.
“We reopened on July 4 and it has gone well so far, so it’s encouraging. This whole pandemic has shown me about how important it is to be resourceful and how well we can do it. Even if these restrictions and social distancing become a long-term reality rather than a temporary new normal, I’m confident we’ll be ready to cope with it.”