Your “non-essential” Guide to Life

Updating the website, as you do when time is elastic, I came across my last blog. It’s all upbeat: plans, strategy and solutions. Good on me back in May. Because, in August, we implemented those plans, we adapted and we survived to be stronger than ever. That’s not hyperbole; genuinely I’ve been surprised, interested and relieved that we’ve done better than we bleakly expected. Our guests have come to stay because they chose us, specifically; they like what they see online and they know what they’re going to get. They’re here to relax – most business travel is dead and those who still do, really know and choose their hotel stopover. International travel is, sadly, also dead so our guests who would otherwise be in Nice or Barcelona come to the West Country. On the plus side, the death of international travel means, finally, the stranglehold of and other engines is loosening. Most of all, I give credit to our staff; they’ve thought about the reasoning, instigated and followed the protocols and have just enjoyed getting out here and running the show. Our watchwords have been *light touch* and we think we’ve achieved this – beyond all expectations – this summer.

Which is why I’m pretty angry about the current second lockdown. Anticipating a two-week circuit break in October, I held staff holidays in hand and we discussed how we might get through that phase. I would have backed a short lockdown then, we would have coped and it would have given the nation pause for thought. Now every “non essential” business is closed for four weeks. What does this say to a business that has worked tirelessly to get its Covid procedures in place? To a staff who are trained to provide a framework for people and who, most importantly, deserve to have pride in earning a salary through doing something they love and are trained for? And what does it say to a nation who are told they, too, don’t know what’s good for them; they can’t judge how safe is their own behaviour? We’re all “non-essential” now.

Then, the announcement that furlough will be extended until the end of March. Now, don’t jump at me – furlough has been the only tool in my box during lockdown (we’ve had no grants). It’s kept our familiar faces going through the summer and beyond. It’s got to be useful in this 4-week lockdown 2.0. But what hospitality businesses will be using this through to April? Those who close anyway in the winter – aren’t they already geared up for this? Those running on half a tank – aren’t they finding other ways to reach full throttle? It strikes me that extending furlough further will mean the weakest exploit it while the best won’t need to. I don’t know anyone in this business who isn’t ready to open their doors safely right now. What does it matter whether furlough ends in December or April? Is the easiest thing for government to kick us “non-essentials’ into the woods until April? Or is there a time-based political fudge afoot. And, just maybe, an attempt to desensitise us all into thinking we’re just not social animals, after all, and can get back into our burrows until springtime.

I know so many small businesses, like us, who have worked with every sinew to get back to square one and beyond. We have adapted to a new audience, we’ve made hard decisions, and we’ve followed through. Yet we get no credit, no acknowledgement that maybe we’re doing it right, no opportunity to ‘”let the market decide” – an irony from this government. We’re all in the “non-essential” heap, apparently. Either a utopian future looms, where we’ve all suddenly immune to Covid-19 and it’s successors, or a dystopian one, where we all live in our own silo and barely make eye contact. You choose – this is the 21st century and Maslow is spinning in his grave. Hospitality provides a menu of options. Life isn’t scary; it’s for living and basic needs are not my jumping off point.