In times of crisis – whether it be war or plague – hotels and catering centres have traditionally taken centre stage and stepped up to the mark.
Whether it’s the 5-star Ritz Hotel in Madrid (a field hospital during the Spanish Civil War), the deluxe Hôtel Martinez in Cannes or Bantry House in West Cork (field hospitals during the 2nd and 1st World War respectively), the sector has never been found wanting in times of extremes.
Now, the hotel industry has once again become an important lifebuoy in this open-ended Covid-19 crisis. While there is a certain level of inevitability about a sector that is forced to close down offering its redundant stock to help out those in need, the speed and the level of generosity at which the sector has responded has been nonetheless impressive.
First up was the Choice Hotel Group. On the 27th of March, they offered some 1,800 B&B bed nights to healthcare workers on a ‘first-come, first-serve’ basis online. The generous offers were to be taken up between August 1st next and July 31st 2021 and were snapped up within hours of going online through Choice Hotels’ social media network. Choice says that the offer is worth some €250,000 all told, with the 1,8000 healthcare workers being allowed to choose their destination amongst the group’s seven properties across Ireland and the UK. Some of the more notable establishments in their stable include The g Hotel in Galway and The Shoreline Hotel in Donabate.
Choice’s CEO Andy O’Neill said that the company wanted to express their “deep gratitude to those on the frontline bravely working on our behalf, and by giving our frontline workers a well-deserved break to look forward to when all this is over… They are truly amazing people.”
The Blarney Castle Hotel in Blarney, Co Cork donated meals to the local ‘Meals on Wheels’ operation while the K Club – one of Ireland’s most exclusive resorts – offered its services to the state some weeks ago to use their 134-bedroom facility in whatever manner the Government and/or the HSE so wished. Ireland’s largest hotel – the 800-room Citywest Hotel has already been transformed into a field hospital.
Abroad, the trend is well established, with French hotel group (and Europe’s largest) Accor having set up an online platform called CEDA to provide free accommodation across France for medical staff as well as homeless people. At the time of writing, over 40 hotels and up to 2,000 beds have been made available.
In the UK, meanwhile, former Manchester United players Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs were quick to turn their two city-centre hotels – the Stock Exchange and Hotel Football – into accommodation centres for up to 176 NHS staff.
Back at home, the CEO of Ireland’s largest hotel group Dalata recently acknowledge in an interview with RTE that it would be 2022 before bookings would return to some level of normality.“If I look at our own plans,” said Pat McCann, “2020 is a year to make sure you survive, then 2021 is a year of starting to build back the business and I would see 2022 as the year where you’re getting back to some level of normality.”
Speaking to Hotel & Restaurant Times, the Dalata chief executive said that he won’t be committing to any particular movement at the moment as he is cognisant of the speed at which the situation is evolving.
“What we’ve done in Dalata is that we’re supporting what we call Government initiatives with helping to house frontline people and doing things like that. We’ve held back from things like (what Choice Hotels have done) because we don’t know when things will end but we’re very clear in our minds that once all this starts to lift, then we need to be doing something for these people who have risked their own lives in protecting us. We won’t be found wanting when it comes to that but as of today, I’ve announced nothing and I don’t intend to until we have a clearer idea of which way the wind is blowing.”