UK hospitality gets the green light as social distancing reduced

Miles Hurley Miles Hurley Uploaded 23 June 2020

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UK: In a statement this afternoon, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the reopening of pubs, restaurants and hotels on July 4.

He further announced the previously rumoured reduction of the two-metre social distancing rule to a “One metre plus” rule.  

The suite of announcements marks vital shift for the hospitality industry, who will now be allowed to begin conducting business again. The shift in the two-metre rule in particular has been highlighted as a measure to allow restaurants and pubs to continue doing business while staying safe.  

Businesses would still be limited, with indoor hospitality limited to table service while maintaining minimal contact. The Prime Minister also said businesses should keep contact details from customers in order to help NHS Track and Trace Manage the outbreak.  

Johnson said in a speech to Parliament: "We cannot lift all the restrictions at once so we have to make difficult judgments. And every step is scrupulously weighed against the evidence."

The new iteration of distancing rules still maintain two metres as the ideal distance for people, but allows one metre in situations where full distancing would be otherwise impossible. Two families will also now be allowed to meet indoors, so long as social distancing measures are still met.

The prime minister stated that guidelines for every reopening sector would be published at a later time, with some speculating later today.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer announced his support for the thrust of the measures but questioned the basis of the changes. In parliament, he advocated for frontline worker protection and questioned the efficacy of their track and trace system. 

Hospitality industry leaders have praised the shift and noted that this is an opportunity for hospitality to rebound.

Kate Nicholls, CEO of trade body UKHospitality said: “Having confirmation of the reopening date is a real boon and affords businesses some time to make the necessary preparations. “While many venues will endeavour to reopen on 4 July, capacities will be constrained by social distancing and some may be unable to trade viably at all, so continued government support will remain crucial.”

Others have noted that this statement would allow them to start planning how to return to regular service. Concerns still remain about the longevity of the marketplace in light of continually low consumer confidence. 

A spokesperson for the Old Mouse Hotel in Cornwall said: “What we'll do now is digest the guidance on how we should open safely and then look carefully at how we work to keep our guests, community and teams safe but in a way that doesn't diminish the essence of this brilliant spot in Mousehole. It'll take a few days and more, so what we won't be doing is rushing to open on 4 July itself.”

Christian Mole, EY UK&I Head of Hospitality & Leisure, said: "In light of potentially reduced incomes and health concerns, the extent to which consumer confidence will translate to a rapid return in footfall is uncertain. The continuing prevalence of working from home means that business travel and work-related hospitality – ranging from a lunchtime sandwich, through post-work drinks to client dinner entertainment – will likely remain at low levels for some time yet."

Julian Troup, head of hotels agency at Colliers International commented: “Hoteliers have generally reacted very positively to Boris Johnson’s announcement this week regarding the reopening of the leisure and hospitality sector, including hotels, on 4 July with a ‘one-metre-plus' social distance relaxation change. The easing of this legislation will certainly help the running of hotelier’s food and beverage offerings, albeit it is still imperative that government guidelines are still adhered to, ensuring the wellbeing of guests and employees alike.

“The change in the government’s restrictions will undoubtedly help hotels and hospitality businesses moving forwards, however the specific marketing and reopening plans will prove to be pivotal as to the level of success over the coming months of being ‘back open for business’.

“Since the announcement in mid-May that the government had confirmed an "ambition" to open some hospitality businesses, from 4 July, as agents we experienced a material pick up in the volume of activity that we were seeing, and generally there has been a good deal more viewing requests and offers made on hotels in recent weeks.

“In addition, our clients’ feedback has been particularly upbeat in relation to hotel bookings coming in and general customer demand across the sector. Although July may prove to be a month of contemplation, already August and September “staycation” bookings appear to be coming through at a healthy rate. The critical impact for the sector will be the reduced capacity while ensuring that guests and employees are kept healthy, safe and secure,” he added.

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