I remember being asked in early March at a staff townhall meeting in our ballroom – “Would the hotel ever close as a result of the COVID 19 Pandemic?” It took me a back a little and my response was quick to assure that it was highly unlikely. Fast forward less than 3 weeks later and we had closed the hotel. In fact, at Rosewood London we closed a week before the government announced hotels to close. The dwindling occupancy, the numerous restaurants and event cancellations and the daily 6-digit cancellation in rooms all lead to the ultimate closure. On March 21st we said goodbye to our last guest and locked the gates. Such a surreal moment.
With almost 500 staff employed at the hotel we sent almost 95% of the workforce home awaiting further news from the government. It was quite emotional; we are an industry about people and for us to be apart from each other felt and feels so wrong. With only a small working team of security, engineering, sales and some senior management we remained to keep the building safe and deal with enquiries from our future business. Painfully we had to start cancelling so many reservations that had taken such hard work to covert and win.
Taking care of the team who were at home was one of the first priorities for us. Weekly newsletters zoom calls with over 70 people on at a time, quizzes, competitions, mental health professional support and translating the latest government announcements to show, how it affected them were implemented immediately. Many of us were feeling the additional stress of the uncertain times ahead, it was critical that we minimised this for the team.
Every hotelier right now is navigating the same numerous forecast scenarios – I think I am on number 15. We have settled for an opening date of around September. I am blessed to have owners that are incredibly supportive and are not in a rush to be the first to open. However, there is no right and wrong time to open, it must be right for your business. We want to open when it is safe for employees & guests to return and when there is demand. In London we also need other attractions open in conjunction with ours – museums, tourist attractions, a great selection of restaurants and shops. We also need the offices around us occupied and the lawyers and the city workers expensing again for dining and drinking. We need social distancing reduced from 2m to ideally 1m, we need the R rate to be low enough and we need that dreaded Quarantine removed. So there is still a long way to go.
Quarantine – The W1 association in London of which I am a member of, consists of around 30 Five Star hotel GMs. We have been boycotting against the proposed quarantine, hoping that the government adapts the programme. An abolishment seems unlikely however we feel that modifications could be made such as proof of a negative test/medical certificate upon arrival into the UK, could make one exempt. The quarantine of course has now limited all international travel into the UK for the summer at least, we hope that after the 3 week review it is ended.
What has been critical during this time of closure is that we have used the time wisely – hopefully we never go through this again. This time has been invaluable to reset and re-evaluate the business. Businesses need to ensure that when they reopen, that they will appeal to their domestic market – whether that is through room packages, marketing or F&B concepts – it all must appeal to the local consumer. Staycations are vital when we re-emerge from this. At Rosewood London it has always been critical that we appeal to the local market – our F&B concepts attract Londoners in, and we will need our loyal clients to return to support the business. Scarfes Bar is regularly voted as one of the top bars in the world, Holborn Dining Room has one of the largest Gin collections, both rooms are vast spaces that allow for easy social distancing and we have an outdoor terrace too which will be highly appealing. Masterclasses on Pie-making in our wonderful pie room and an award-winning afternoon tea in The Mirror room along with an innovative spa complete a perfect staycation in the city. Our Sales & Marketing efforts will need to ensure that these points are amplified to the consumer.
Whilst we have been closed, we have stayed in communication with hundreds of our regular clients and our travel agents who have all been affected by the pandemic. Like us they have been through stressful times and they were so appreciative of the outreach. It was also a lovely relief for our team to speak to our clients and feel connected again to other human beings too!
We also wanted to use the time to stay connected to the community despite being closed – so our chefs led by Executive Chef Simon Young have been volunteering their time and cooking treats for local NHS hospitals each week. Chef Calum Franklin and his team from Holborn Dining Room have cooking thousands of fabulous pies and selling them at a local Butchers with all proceeds going to the NHS too. These actions and more have been a great initiative to keep the team’s morale high and motivated.
So as reopening approaches we will be launching our ‘Commitment to Care’ – a new health and safety program which will bring heightened standards of cleanliness and hygiene to the property. Whether it is electro-static cleaners, revised service standards that minimise hi touch points in the business or the use of fogging – we will all return to a very new normal. It will be critical for us as operators to communicate with our guests pre arrival, so they are fully aware what to expect not only on property but also in destination. It will be that reassurance from us that we are taking care of all the details that will inspire travel sooner than later. We may not see the normal we used to know; however, our clients cannot wait to start travelling and being our guests again.