Giles Fuchs, owner of Burgh Island Hotel, outlines his views on how UK hotels can deliver escapism for the British public.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has upended many summer plans for international travel this year, searches for UK holidays have risen dramatically in recent months. In fact, “staycation” searches have increased by as much as 103 per cent on normal levels as the UK government lifted restrictions for the hospitality sector. This effect has been felt strongly at Burgh Island Hotel, where bookings are now booming well until March next year.
Brits’ summer holidays have, after all, taken on new significance this year. Working from home, supporting families and rising levels of anxiety during lockdown have all had a significant impact on people’s overall wellbeing. During a stressful and uncertain time, where work-life boundaries have become increasingly unclear, taking a break from our everyday routines has become critical to reducing stress.
In this climate, hotels across the UK can play a crucial role in delivering the relaxation and peace guests are desperately craving during one of the most chaotic periods in our history. By matching safety with intimacy and ease, a sense of rich history, free access to the great outdoors and a truly unique experience, hotels can offer a true opportunity for escapism in the era of COVID-19.
In the midst of COVID-19, ensuring that people feel comfortable is clearly the crucial foundation to providing an ultimate retreat for guests. Across the UK, hotels are taking sweeping measures to ensure that people can feel confident in their safety while also ensuring that measures don’t infringe too significantly on guests’ ability to relax and unwind.
From one-way footfall routing to contactless check-in, a number of measures have been introduced to this end. However, if not managed effectively, such measures can risk detracting from the ambience and sense of freedom synonymous with a holiday getaway. So, ensuring that these measures enhance, rather than detract from, the guest experience wherever possible is imperative.
One way that hotels can achieve this is by embracing distancing as an opportunity to provide greater intimacy. For example, extending restaurant sittings, so that guests can dine later into the evening and in smaller cohorts, can provide a more private, less crowded and quieter experience. Alternative areas can also be opened up for use, such as lounges and peaceful libraries for meal sittings and private group use.
Technology can also play an importantly central role in creating ease and peace of mind – ensuring hotels can provide an attentive, smooth and reassuring experience for guests even with social distancing in place. From socially-distanced check-in to contactless routes through the hotel and even hands-free room access, smart technology can help people to feel protected. For example, the NH Hotel Group has launched programmes such as their ‘Feel Safe at NH’ scheme, where it has looked to enhance its digital services during lockdown.
Transported to a different time and place
Making the most of a hotel’s character and history is a further way to deliver the real “escape” that guests are searching for in an uncertain time. For example, the team at Burgh Island Hotel enjoy sharing stories of the iconic island’s wild spirit and past guests – such as Winston Churchill, Josephine Baker and Agatha Christie – painting a fascinating picture of the its rich past and long history as a peaceful retreat for busy Brits.
Interior design features can also play an importance part in evoking the ambience of a hotel and helping to transport guests to a different time and place. For example, authentic art deco features have been carefully preserved over the past 90 years at Burgh Island, such as our original Crittal dome skylight in the palm court bar, which are further complemented by soft furnishings and design touches that accentuate the hotel’s iconic art deco style. Making the most of these elements through strategic footfall routing can also help to frame the process more as a “tour” than an imposition, creating positive memories for new and returning visitors alike.
The great outdoors
Outdoor spaces have become increasingly important in lockdown, not only offering crucial mental health relief at the height of the pandemic, but also providing safer spaces for social interaction. During a period when guests are understandably cautious and want to socially distance, the outdoors has become an ever more central asset for hotels, as well as other hospitality and leisure businesses.
Investing in increased outdoor seating for al fresco dining and drinks can offer a much-needed escape from our everyday experiences during lockdown, as well as offering access to a moment of peace and calm that guests might not have been so drawn to before. Equally, offering outdoor lunches and teas can help guests to relax more confidently, additionally opening up new experiences and creating additional attractions for the hotel.
More than just a stay
Offering truly unique, memorable experiences beyond simply bed and board also ensures that guests can escape from the everyday. For instance, at Burgh Island, we offer walking routes for the surrounding area, including the infamous South West coastal path, and offer trails across our 23-acre island – itself a setting like no other.
Partnering with local experts and tradespeople is another way to enhance guests’ experience and offer unique activities, such as outdoor artistry classes, foraging or fishing excursions to create unforgettable moments that keep guests returning. Further, these activities can help to forge stronger, meaningful connections with the surrounding area, as well as bringing new revenue streams to a locality. One such example at Burgh Island is the shark conservation trips we offer, which run just off the south Devon coast.
Providing opportunities to connect with the local community in this way is a valuable step in creating a sense of escapism. For instance, hotels can offer written or audio guides to local attractions, showcase independent retailers and producers, or provide tours of the local villages, towns and cities, allowing guests to familiarise themselves with a vibrant and stimulating local area.
A lasting trend
The desire to escape from our everyday lives is no new feeling, but in the wake of COVID-19, offering this sense of escape has never felt more important. At the same time, however, hotels and hospitality businesses across the UK have grappled with the impacts of social distancing and the importance of implementing measures that protects guests’ safety and ensures they can feel both comfortable and confident in their surroundings.
Undeniably, this has been a challenge to navigate, but cultivating a sense of escapism has never been more important, either for a hotel’s branding, reputation or guests’ experience. Those that do this well, now, will continue to reap the rewards long after the pandemic has passed.