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EXCLUSIVE: UK hospitality leaders react to roadmap announcement

By Sarah Camilleri

While the hotly-anticipated ‘roadmap’ announcement to reopen the UK was greeted with much positivity yesterday, it amounted to a tale of two halves for spa businesses in the UK, depending on their location: high street or hospitality.

Spas, beauty salons, hairdressers and nail salons will be able to open from Stage 2, which begins on April 12, as part of ‘non-essential retail’, under the newly formed ‘Personal Care’ categorisation. However, hospitality businesses must wait until Step 3 – May 17 at the earliest – to reopen with further restrictions on operations.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced that the resumption of travel will be reviewed by his taskforce by the 12 April. Next week’s Budget, 03 March, will announce the economic recovery packages available to support the Roadmap.

We asked a selection of industry leaders to give their response to the announcement and suggest what needs to happen next to ensure UK spas and wellness destinations can reopen successfully and build back better.

'Wellness hospitality has been undervalued'

Danny Pecorelli, managing director, Exclusive Collection

 

“My overwhelming sense is one of disappointment, especially for hotel and destination spas. We effectively face another three months of closure without any sight of support measures until next week’s Budget. Furthermore, we will still be on one week’s standby for the announced earliest date of May 17.

 

 

“Also, the vital details remain to be published, demonstrating the disregard, devaluation and lack of understanding of our industry – I urge the UK government to announce the economic support packages planned for hospitality, including details on rates relief, VAT cuts, furlough scheme extensions and rent moratoriums, where required.

 

“We are one of the most compliant industries, having invested time and resources in providing safe and Covid-secure environments, and yet we continue to be penalised and placed behind almost every other sector.”

‘Supporting the nation’s wellbeing recovery’

Julia Hands, chairman and CEO, Handpicked Hotels

The pandemic has had a huge impact on the physical and mental health of so many and it was critical that the spa and fitness industries were not at the back of the re-opening queue.

I am delighted that our health clubs can re-open mid-April and I know that our loyal, committed members will feel the same. With more clarity still to come regarding the re-opening of spas and some lifestyle and beauty services, overall I believe this is a positive message from government in terms of supporting the nation’s physical and mental health recovery.

Health clubs and wellness centres have been recognised as part of the solution and we have a committed, professional team who are ready to nurture our guests’ wellbeing.

Spas and health and wellness facilities in general provide a lifeline – mentally, physically, and socially. With our ongoing commitment to cleanliness, safety and social distancing, I strongly believe that these environments are low-risk, safe spaces that provide sanctuary and focus for the mind and body.”

‘Let's build back better’

Becky Woodhouse, CEO, Pure Spa

“It is vital that the end of lockdown is truly the end of lockdown, we cannot go back to the cycle of open/close/open/close that we saw in the second half of 2020. There needs to be immediate support to help us to the end of lockdown measures and then medium-term measures to extend support where businesses need it the most.

 

 

I would like to see the following measures introduced:

  • • A reduction in VAT
  • • The extension of furlough until the end of September to support reopening over the summer
  • • An extension of rates relief and the moratorium to prevent landlords evicting tenants
  • • Build back better – a fundamental review of business rates, enhanced tax reliefs to encourage business growth and investment, for example an extension of government-backed loans
  • • Tax relief extended to investors who loan money to business (in addition to equity) so that people who have savings would receive a greater return if they lent their money to an SME than they would leaving it in a bank account. There has been a £125 billion increase in savings during the pandemic and this needs to be unlocked to help benefit the recovery.

‘Kicked into the long grass, again…’

Alan Whiteley, CEO, Champneys Health Resort

In 2020, sales across the hospitality sector dropped by 54%, or a massive £72 billion. Our business and countless others are particularly vulnerable, but desperately want to stay open and play our parts in reviving our local economies and rebuilding our local communities.

With the right support in the upcoming Budget, combined with the right pathway, businesses like Champneys can bounce back quickly. We can support our local suppliers and start to employ more people, helping to stem the growing levels of unemployment. Most importantly, we can go back to doing what we do best – providing a fantastic experience for our customers and bringing people in our community together.

“Champneys has invested so much in resources and planning to provide Covid-secure environments, and yet we continue to be last in place for opening up our business. I feel that we have been kicked into the long grass again as the Roadmap timings are nonsensical for hotel and resort spa destinations.

All roadmap dates for hospitality should be in line with when gyms and spas can open, as otherwise it means another three months of closure. As it stands, our spas can potentially open for treatments in April, subject to approval, yet the rest of the business, in hotel or resort settings, has to remain closed until mid-May.

We urge the Chancellor to do the right thing on March 3 and announce an extension of the VAT cut to 5% for another 12 months – and for this to be extended to include alcoholic drinks sold for consumption on the premises. A further 100% holiday on business rates, covering the next financial year would also help us to build back better.”

Sarah Camilleri: European Spa founding editor and publisher

“The spa industry and its growing workforce and dedicated supply chain, must be valued as an essential part of the nation’s physical and mental wellbeing recovery. Behind every spa is a supply chain of dedicated businesses and talented professionals who have also fallen between the gaps when it comes to economic support since the pandemic began.

 

 

“We now need to see some joined up thinking at the highest level of government. I look forward to seeing our hardworking spa and hospitality professionals being fully supported to return to work – wherever they work – to deliver much needed spa and wellbeing services as soon as possible.”

Spa ‘disconnect’ creates further delays

Andrew McPherson, general manager, Grantley Hall

I am delighted that we have more clarity than in previous lockdowns, however, the slowness of the lifting is very bad news for our spa team and the hotel in general. The disconnect between the dates of April 12  for the reintroduction of treatments and May 17 for hotels means that our spa, designed to deliver value to our accommodation product, will remain closed.

 

 

We have nearly £700k on the books that needs to be moved, rebooked, or even worse, cancelled. I and the spa’s management feel that we have operated all areas with incredible diligence and Covid-security. We need the government to give us the green light to accept overnight bookings in en-suite bedrooms from  April 12. We can close off public reception areas, restaurants etc, but to have the ability for people to stay overnight, use in-room dining and have a treatment, would allow us to consider reopening.

 

We also need continuing financial support. For hospitality, VAT needs to remain at the lower rate for the whole of 2021 and the furlough needs to be extended through to the beginning of July. Continuing business rate exemptions will also help to get the industry back on it feet. Financial support towards training after the furlough is finished also needs to be a priority.”

‘My team’s wellbeing will be crucial’

Jason Adams, managing director, Rockliffe Hall

“My team will be over the moon that there is an end in sight, so they can get back what they do best – delivering amazing service and hospitality. However, the whole industry is trying to plan cash-flow forecasts and we can’t really do this without knowing what support will be available for being closed for many more weeks and months. But at least now we have a date and we can implement the operational aspects of our businesses.

“Looking to the future, there is no question that a VAT break will help immensely along with the business rates holiday – this support has to happen. For spa teams, retraining and refreshing what they already know is also going to be key having spent six months out of work, so a gradual return is probably going to be the way forward. My team, their wellness and mental health is my main priority, but let’s just get open again.”

‘This is welcome support, but financial support is essential’

Helena Grzesk, COO, British Beauty Council

 

We are delighted by the decision to reopen personal care businesses, all being well, on April 12. This welcome news highlights just how far our sector has come in raising our reputation and gaining recognition at government level over the past year. Having a dedicated sector team within the Department for Business, Energy and industrial Strategy ensures we have a continued voice in important decisions such as these.

 

 

However, it is disappointing that saunas and steam rooms are not reopening until Step 3 scheduled for mid-May, alongside indoor hospitality and accommodation.

 

The British Beauty Council will continue to champion the beauty industry with a continued focus to secure sector-specific financial support in the form of a personal care emergency fund and a VAT reduction to 5%, as we have seen afforded to other sectors prior to the upcoming budget announcement. This financial support is essential to ensure the immediate reopening and long-term recovery of this economically viable sector and its workforce.

 

We hope to see a consistent approach to the reopening as the devolved nations announce their roadmaps.”

‘A plea to cut VAT’

Yvonne Ebdon, general manager, UK Spa Association

 We are absolutely delighted that our spas are able to reopen in Step 2 of the roadmap, but obviously, this comes with the disappointment that saunas and steam rooms are delayed until Step 3 as part of the hospitality sector.

 As we know, spas and hospitality go hand in hand, and with many spas housed within hospitality premises and  sauna and steam rooms being an integral part of a spa guest journey, the UKSA is now returning its focus back to fighting for the financial support our sector needs.

 It is vital that we continue to work with fellow industry organisations and place a combined focus on financial support for the personal care sector, including an emergency fund and the reduction of  VAT to 5%. Many other industries have received funding grants and we have seen hospitality receive the VAT reduction, so we will continue to fight for the sector and our spas.”

‘The spa industry will be powered by the positive energy of its people’

Marc Hayton, general manager, Foxhills

“Foxhills is a club and resort that employs 230 people. We offer 400 acres that includes golf courses, tennis courts and an award-winning spa, all of which contribute to our success. While managing the pandemic, we have built a £7 million leisure facility that is now due to open in May 2021.

 

“We are still digesting the announcement and, typically, the fine detail lags a little, with no mention of thermal rooms, which are an important part of spa days. That said, it is good that there is a plan but the business still needs certainty.

 

 

“Opening tennis, golf and outdoor classes for up to five people from March 29 is later than we hoped. Golf has proven it’s so safe that it could have been designed by Oxford/Astra Zeneca! Conversely, gyms and spas opening on April 12 is actually two weeks earlier than we forecasted.

 

“When our spa reopened in August, take up was slow, however, we expect it will pick up quicker this time as everyone has become more comfortable with the Covid-safe protocols.

 

“Our industry is burning cash every minute, so we would welcome the business rates holiday to be extended for another year. We also believe that encouraging exercise is another way to ‘Save the NHS’, so it would be a positive move to broaden the VAT reduction on some F+B to cover gym memberships for the coming 12 months.

 

“The government has provided the roadmap, but the spa industry will be powered by the positive energy of its people. Some of our colleagues haven’t worked since October. Speaking to them, what they miss more than the income is half a year without the camaraderie and sense of purpose. Employers must do all we can to support their wellbeing.

 

“Importantly, the Treasury select committee has said more than a million self-employed people have slipped through the support net. Many in our sector, such as therapists, nail technicians and personal trainers fall into that bracket. I don’t have the answer but they have been cruelly overlooked.”

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