View from the B&B Association, An interview with David Weston

The B&B Association has unsurprisingly been busier than it has ever been over the past couple of months, according to chairman David Weston, who tells Luxury BnB:

“Our members are so keen for information, support and guidance particularly translating bits of government support for them and also lobbying to fill in the gaps.”

The key issue the association has been addressing is the predominantly financial help that has been made available for businesses and explaining things like the lockdown and its limitations, but also what government help has been available, and explaining it to members.

Initially there wasn’t a self-employed scheme, so we were lobbying for that,” David explains. “There was a big gap for B&Bs because the grants were only payable to people on a business rates system.

He adds: “More than 50% of our members pay council tax not business rates because they largely let up to three rooms in their family home, so they weren’t entitled in any way whatsoever.”

The association then lobbied for six weeks before, in mid-May, the government finally succumbed and put forward a new local authority discretionary grant fund of £617m. But David says: “Then there was a gap in that fund, since if you were eligible for the self-employed scheme you could apply for this grant but a lot of B&Bs are self-employed and don’t make much profit, so they knew they would get very little from that self-employed fund and were upset they couldn’t apply for the new grant.”

Another three weeks of intensive lobbying and the government changed their mind on that issue too. “Even if you were eligible for the self-employed scheme you can now apply for this new grant,” he says.

Casualties

Some B&B owners have lost tens of thousands of turnover as they are effectively losing all their income from March until at least early July, and the bookings aren’t yet coming in for later on in the season.  “Even if they have been given a £10k grant, which was the lucky ones, that doesn’t last very long. Many people have suffered a lot,” he says.

We’ve been advising everyone on looking carefully through all the government financial help and applying for what they are eligible for but also advising people to cut back any costs they can at the moment. Some are getting mortgage holidays. Business rate holidays have been automatic, but B&Bs can also benefit from HMRC extended time to pay and VAT payment deferrals. Everything is worth pursuing,” he says.

Draft protocols

There had been a shortage of practical information on how to reopen under COVID-19 until UKHospitality issued draft protocols in late May. As we go to press, these are expected to be endorsed by the government as ways in which B&Bs and guest houses can open.

The protocols will be the basis of each individual B&B and guest house doing its own risk assessment, much like those done for fire precautions, and then opening,” says David. “It is going to be difficult for the host and very different for the guest. They won’t get the same kind of service. But we are all going to have to get used to this until there is a complete vaccine and the whole thing is over.”

The association has been advising members during the lockdown to take the opportunity to do all those things that have needed doing but for which they haven’t had the time, he says. “This includes updating your website, putting in new and better photography, carrying out bits of maintenance and improvement, and of course sleeping in every guest bedroom (as only by doing that can you see all the quibbles and quirks that you need to fix). All these are just housekeeping things. Think through everything you have meant to do when you were too busy to do so with guests. This is the time to do it all and be busy for hopefully being busy again the moment you reopen,” he says.

Lower capacity

Many B&Bs have asked if they are going to have to open at less than capacity to comply, says David. “There isn’t any advice to reduce your capacity as such. Some people have asked whether they should leave 72 hours between bookings, but the protocols don’t say you need to do so. They do say leave for 72 hours when the virus dies: in other words if you have an instance where a guest has had symptoms then you should leave 72 hours for that room.”

He stresses that it does not say you have to leave a gap between bookings. “It obviously expresses completely different cleaning regimes, but in theory you ought to be able to have normal occupancy but coping with things like check in and check out differently. Some may deliver pre-cooked breakfast to guests’ bedroom doors; deepening on the size of your breakfast room and number of bedrooms you might have staggered breakfast times, or you may have the room to socially distance.”

Owners will still have to operate differently in terms of not doing things like buffets, where people are touching food, he says. “You plate it up and service it individually to them – all those kinds of things. Changing the way you put out breakfast stuff, even things like salt and pepper cellars. There is a lot to rethink. What we didn’t want as a sector was for the government to give us detailed prescriptive rules of how you must do everything as that becomes unworkable. It has to be practical.

Kite mark programme

Visit Britain is talking about a kite-mark programme, he says. “A self-competed questionnaire B&Bs will fill in about how they are coping and making themselves COVID-19-safe then they will get a kit mark that shows they are complying.

That will be accompanied by spot checks to make sure people are doing what they claim they are. The purpose is to give consumer confidence.

“That is obviously going to be a massive issue: because the government has been so successful with its own message a lot of people are quite scared and a lot of local communities have been saying don’t come here, keep away. A massive amount of work is needed to deal with communication from the government and organisations like visit Britain as we reopen to encourage people to go out and stay.”

Government encouragement

David says: “It was good to hear in Scotland on 25 May that the Scottish government minister went on tv and said Scots need to go on staycation this summer – ‘go and stay in Scotland’ – and we are going to need all that big campaign from the government, otherwise people won’t be able to take advantage of whatever summer they have left.

It’s all very well being open on 4 July, but if nobody comes then that’s not going to help. The government is going to need to undo their message on staying at home and reverse it and say go out on staycation in the UK and enjoy what the UK has to offer. There is a big job to do there. Hopefully they have put aside some money for that. Much is needed to be done by the government.”

He adds: “We are hoping there will be something of an Indian summer because of the season starting late. The government is talking about doing an October bank holiday and we are in favour of that – it would help extend the season with an extra week in October.”

In these uncertain times it is clear there is much to be done, and you can be sure that you will be busier than usual as you adapt to the new world.

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