UK hotels and coronavirus: What does the latest government advice mean for your stay?

The UK Foreign Office (FCO) has advised Britons against ‘all but essential travel’ abroad for the next 30 days to prevent the spread of coronavirus, meaning many of us are staying put. The Prime Minister has called for the country to avoid large gatherings as well as interactions in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars and clubs.

The advice from the government doesn’t specifically mention hotels though and many continue to remain open. We spoke to some leading hotel groups to find out what you can expect from a stay in a UK hotel under the current circumstances, and how those remaining open are planning to enable guests to safely practice social distancing. 

Are hotels in the UK still open for business? 

Many UK hotels remain open for the time being, but are taking sensible measures against the spread of coronavirus. Robin Hutson, owner of popular boutique group The Pig, said in a statement: “Our top priority is to keep guests and staff as safe as possible if you choose to stay, drink and dine with us. We are doing our utmost to ride out this uncertain and difficult global crisis and look after our dedicated team of people to ensure our hotels can and will provide a warm, welcome escape to the countryside.” 

Health and safety measures implemented at the Pigs, which are in Dorset, Devon and the New Forest, among other locations, include stopping physical contact, such as shaking hands, between guests and colleagues, and observing the two-metre distance rule as much as possible. They will also be taking the temperature of every employee entering the building. Any team member that presents symptoms, however mild, will not be entering the hotel for seven days (supported by their sick-pay benefit). 

Extra attention will be given to cleaning, especially surfaces such as door handles. At London’s Cheval serviced luxury aparthotels, housekeeping frequency can be modified accordingly, while public fixtures such as door handles and lift switches are being cleaned on an hourly basis. Similarly, all of the Marriott International’s UK hotels, including the Design Hotels group and The Luxury Collection, have a stringent ‘cleaning program’ based on CDC and WHO advice installed at their properties. Even room key cards get disinfected. 

Their UK hotels remain open despite reports in the US that the company has already started to put hotel staff on unpaid leave. 

What about hotel restaurants? 

Many hotels, including the Pigs and Lime Wood, have reduced the density of tables in their restaurants and bars. They said: “The latest advice is to avoid restaurants and bars without specifying a ban on these venues so until instructed otherwise, we will be remaining open which enables us to support our staff as long as possible, and welcome guests into our hotels.”

At The Biltmore Mayfair in London, Jason Atherton’s Michelin-starred menu is available via non-contact room service. Some hotel restaurants have reduced their entire offering to delivery and take-away only services, such as the Albion Café in London’s Boundary Hotel, owned by Sir Terence Conran. Others, meanwhile, have closed completely, such as Red Rooster in The Curtain Hotel

Are hotel spas still open?

At Lime Wood’s spa, there will be a daily ‘deep clean’ of the areas. Treatments, however, have been cancelled and the sauna and steam room closed. Gym classes have been moved outside to allow for the two-metre rule. As yet there has been no specific advice regarding the safety of spas at the present time.

What happens if my hotel closes or I need to cancel my stay?

The industry is encouraging guests to delay rather than cancel stays if necessary at this time. Nick Trend, our consumer editor, says: “If a hotel closes you should get your money back, but if it goes out of business you are only likely to get your money back if you have paid by credit card.

If you fail to turn up for a stay you have booked, for whatever reason, then you are still liable to pay the full cost unless the hotel can re-sell the room, or it has a cancellation policy which offers refunds. If you already have a travel insurance policy and you get ill [including from coronavirus] and can’t travel then the insurance should cover the cost of the holiday you have lost.” Note also that under most year-round travel insurance, you will be covered against coronavirus-related disruptions for anything already booked, but not for any new bookings.

Do check with your hotel when booking as some hotels are being more flexible in the current climate. The Pig and Lime Wood, for example, still maintain their usual 72-hour cancellation policy, but are happy to move a booking if you fall ill within that window. Marriott has a 24-hour change or cancellation policy for new or existing bookings as long as this is done before April 30. Guests of Accor hotels have a similar policy, but the new dates need to be before December 31. The InterContinental Hotels Group is waiving cancellation fees for stays between March 9 and April 30, while in London, The Lanesborough is also cancelling stays free of charge.

Those who book through third parties should contact their booking provider directly to check cancellation policies.