What social distancing and local lockdown rules mean for your hotel stay in England

Hotel Endsleigh
Hotel Endsleigh, in Devon's Tamar Valley, reopened in July

Since July 4, hotels and hospitality on home soil have started to reopen their doors. It is a much-needed boost for the travel industry and many hotels have been busy welcoming guests. 

However, stays are going to look rather different from now on. The Government has advised hotels, b&bs and other hospitality businesses to implement a series of measures to ensure the safety of guests and staff. The new three-tier local lockdown system also affects hotels and holidays.

Here, we answer all the key questions for a post-lockdown staycation.

How does the three-tier local lockdown system affect hotel stays?

For most of the country, in tier one, this means guests must abide by the 'Rule of Six', and bars and restaurants will close by 10pm. In tier-two areas, much of the north of England, inter-household mixing indoors is banned, meaning a hotel stay with someone outside of your own household would not be possible – but you could still go with someone from your own household, in a tier-one or -two area, though the advice says to reduce the number of journeys you make where possible.

Travel in and out of a tier-three area such as Liverpool should be avoided, and pubs and bars must close completely there. Restaurants however are allowed to remain open, so if you lived in a tier-three area and wanted to stay in a local hotel and eat there, you would technically be able to (if hotels in tier-three areas aren't forced to close down entirely due to a lack of custom).

What do check-in and public areas look like now?

Hotels and other guest accommodation options have been advised to take additional measures to make reception areas safer with increased cleaning protocols in place throughout the day, with particular consideration for any shared facilities. The guidance also advised hotels to encourage guests to use hand sanitiser or handwashing facilities as they enter the premises and regularly during their stay.

The duration of activities such as check-in should now be kept as short as possible, and keys should be cleaned in between guest use. Queues may form outside hotels like they have done outside supermarkets, and hotels have been asked to introduce queuing systems using barriers should they be needed. Larger hotels may opt to stagger check-in and check-out times, or place markers on the floor to maintain social distancing.

It was also announced on June 23 that the two-metre social distancing rule can be reduced to one metre with risk mitigation: this is known as one-metre-plus. Suggestions to reduce the risk range from improved ventilation and clever table layouts to the use of masks and screens.

The Hoxton, Southwark will limit the use of its public spaces for now

Sharan Pasricha, Founder and Chief Executive of Ennismore, which owns the Hoxton group, several of whose properties are in London, said: “Our lobbies have always been spaces [where] we've encouraged guests and locals to come and hang out, eat and drink, but for now, we'll be limiting capacities to ensure social distancing is maintained, adding hand sanitising stations, and spacing out seating so everyone feels safe.

“We also know guests are looking for flexibility so with ‘Flexy Time’, guests can check in and out as early or late as they like. We introduced this last year, but it's going to prove a real benefit now as you won't have a crush of people checking in/out at the same time.”

Other guidelines in the document ask accommodation providers to consider minimising lift usage from reception and to provide clear signage for new lift rules. Guests that are able to may be asked to use the stairs instead, and will be encouraged to wear masks in communal corridors and other public spaces. 

Staff should be accessible to guests via phone, emails and guests apps; and contactless payments and pre-payments for rooms as part of the online booking will be encouraged where possible to limit cash payment for bills. The Hand Picked Hotels group, for example, has appointed all parties checking in with a 'Hand Picked Host' to look after them during their stay.

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Will hotel rooms look different to before?

The official Government guidance has not offered specific advice on whether soft furnishing and more should be removed from hotel rooms, so in many cases rooms may look similar, if not exactly the same, as before.

One key change is that all bedrooms must have private showering facilities. Current Government guidance states that private rooms in all indoor accommodation with en-suite showering facilities, or one designated shower facility per guest room, will be able to reopen. Shared toilet facilities can also be opened. However, if shared toilet and shower facilities are in the same room, guests can only use the shower if it is assigned to one household or support bubble or run using a reservation and cleaning rota. 

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Hotels have also been asked to display signage (for example, posters or leaflets) on basic hygiene practices such as handwashing in each room. This information could be available in different languages and communicated to guests ahead of their stay.

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Can I eat in the restaurant or drink in the bar? 

In short – yes, until 10pm, in accordance with the above outlined rules regarding the three-tier system, and you must wear a mask when not seated at your table. The ‘one-metre-plus’ rule is likely most useful for hotels in their restaurants and bars, as it enables increased capacities.

Restaurants and bars also have to collect contact details from non-resident patrons who don't have the NHS contact-tracing app. Some hotels have currently only opened dining spaces to hotel guests.

Farncombe Estate's Dormy House will reopen with a raft of safety measures

Additional guidelines for reopening hotel restaurants and bars include: minimising customer self service of food, cutlery and condiments; using table service where possible ro reduce the number of people moving about the space; and assigning a single staff member per table.

In hotels where room service is offered, guests should be able to order over the phone and meals will be delivered outside the room on a butler’s tray. Hotels may also encourage tips to be added to the bill, to minimise the use of cash. 

Sharan Pasricha, Founder and Chief Executive of Ennismore, shared additional measures they are taking in the Hoxton hotels: “In our restaurants, we’ve taken away heavy touch items [such as] menus and replaced them with QR codes to bring up menus on diners’ phones.”

Andrew Grahame, CEO of Farncombe Estate, added of the estate’s reopening plans: “In restaurants we will be giving guests more space between tables and reservation times for lunch and dinner will be staggered so we have as much space as possible. We’ve also extended the areas as well as timings of where we’ll serve breakfast, and buffet items will now be [available] on request from the kitchen. [...] For those that prefer to dine in the comfort of their room, we’ve increased our in-room dining options to offer more choice.”

Robin Hutson, Chairman and Chief Executive of The Pig group, explained that they have developed some "in-keeping" screens that go with their décor, as opposed to perspex. "People come to our establishments for much more than just food, drink and a bed to sleep in; they come for a convivial, social atmosphere, so [we're trying] to achieve as much of that environment as we can."

Gilpin Hotel is one of the first to confirm reopening in the Lake District Credit: Ben Barden Photography Ltd

What about spas, pools and other facilities such as gyms?

Spas are now able to operate fully again, though not all of them are. Indoor and outdoor pools including whirlpool tubs were given the green light in July, as were gyms and studios. Treatments, including those administered to ‘high risk’ areas such as the face, were able to resume fully from August.

Saunas and steam rooms were allowed to reopen at the start of October. The major changes you will see include bookable pool, spa and gym slots; one-way systems; the use of masks, gloves and visors worn by staff and in some cases the guests; closed changing rooms (some hotels, for instance, ask visitors to change in their rooms), and temperature checks at the door.

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