After a Few Weeks Dithering UK Government Confirms Mandatory Hotel Quarantine for Several Thousand Incoming Visitors…Per Day

Main Photo: The empty airport at Sydney where travellers either can’t fly in, or have voted with their feet re their quarantine hotel rule. Photo:  ABC News: Stephanie Chalmers

Date: February 2021

Location: UK …incoming from 30 plus overseas countries

Who: Department of Health and Social Care, UK Government

Update: February 10th… Health secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed that the first 16 hotels in England have been contracted for the government’s hotel quarantine scheme for an initial 4,600 bedrooms.

The government is currently keeping secret which hotels have been selected “for commercial reasons”, although this may become clearer when the booking site opens on Thursday (11 February).

Of the hotel groups contacted by The Caterer, Accor said it had received the commercial specifications for its hotels and discussions were “well under way” and its hotels “stand ready”, however a spokesperson could not confirm if any Accor hotels were included in the 16 already contracted.

Budget chain Travelodge said it was not participating in the scheme as the programme was designed for a full service proposition, nor was Premier Inn.

Stansted is understood to not be included on the government’s list of airport hubs for quarantine hotels, and AGO Hotels and OYO both said they were not among the 16, although a spokesperson for OYO said it had submitted its proposal to government and is awaiting feedback.

Yotels at Heathrow and Gatwick are located in terminals that are not currently open to the public, and a spokesperson said they would remain closed until the terminals reopen. Radisson Hotel Group declined to comment.

Hancock confirmed “we will secure more as they are needed” and that ‘quarantine hotels’ will be closed to non-quarantining guests.

From Monday 15 February, any UK and Ireland residents entering England who have been in the government’s ‘red list’ of countries in the 10 days prior will have to quarantine in an assigned hotel room for 10 days. Hancock said the government is working on “similarly tough schemes” with the devolved administrations.

The ‘quarantine package’, which will cover hotel, transport and testing, will cost travellers £1,750 based on an individual travelling alone…see below as to what the hotel can expect…between £500 and £800??

Stricter penalties were also announced for those found to be breaking the rules, including a fine of up to £10,000 for arrivals who fail to quarantine in a designated hotel and up to 10 years in jail for those who lie on their passenger locator forms.

All arrivals to Scotland from outside the UK and Ireland will also be required to quarantine in hotels for at least 10 days from Monday.

Six hotels close to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports with a combined capacity of 1,300 rooms will be used to implement the quarantine at a cost of £1,750 per individual traveller.

A spokesperson for Accor in the UK said: “We have been working closely with the authorities since the very beginning of this pandemic, and this continues today. We have had confirmation that managed quarantine facilities will come into effect from 15 February and we have received the commercial specifications for our hotels.

What are The Rules: Building on existing tough measures, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has confirmed that from 15 February 2021 anyone travelling to the UK from a country on the UK’s travel ban list (33 countries as at 6th February 2021) will be required to quarantine in a government-approved facility for a period of 11 days.

On January 31st, DHSC issued a commercial specification to hotels near ports and airports, asking for proposals on how they can support the delivery of Managed Quarantine Facilities ahead of formal contracts being awarded. General Sir Gordon Messenger will also play an important role in advising the government on the delivery of the programme.

Over the past week, the government has met with stakeholders from across the aviation, maritime, hotel and hospitality industry, and will now continue to finalise plans to enable implementation from 15 February.

The Health Secretary held discussions with his Australian counterpart on Thursday, and officials will speak with New Zealand officials to share expertise. DHSC has also held a series of roundtables with over 60 companies and industry representatives as the public and private sector work together to reduce transmissions of COVID-19.

Further details will be set out next week on how passengers will be able to book into the designated accommodation facilities.

This comes as the Prime Minister appoints the Health and Social Care Secretary to oversee cross-government efforts to deliver mandatory quarantine and enhanced testing which will help tackle the threats of new variants of COVID-19. A new Cabinet sub-committee, led by the Health and Social Care Secretary, will be attended by a number of senior Cabinet ministers that will play a vital role in delivering the policy. The government is also working closely with the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as the changes come into effect.

Detailed work is already underway with the Home Office, Department for Transport, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and other government departments.

A DHSC spokesperson said: Throughout the pandemic, the government has put in place proportionate measures, informed by the advice of scientists, and that has led to some of the toughest border regimes in the world. It is currently illegal to go on holiday, and passengers travelling to the UK must provide proof of a negative test before they travel, and self-isolate on arrival. With increased police presence at airports and more physical checks at addresses to make sure people are self-isolating, we are taking decisive action.

We are now working at pace to secure the facilities we need to roll out managed quarantine for British nationals returning home from the most high-risk countries, and are rightly engaging with representatives from the hospitality, maritime and aviation industry, and learning from our friends around the world. In the face of new variants, it is important that the government continues to take the necessary steps to protect people and save lives.

These measures build on the Home Secretary’s announcement on 27 January that the government is taking further action for outbound and inbound passengers, to minimise travel across international borders and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

How Will It Benefit/Affect Hotels: Based on the letter sent to hotels by the DHSC last week, hotels will:
Initially between 15th February and 31st March, 2021
Be sought in 10 Ports (airports, Eurostar, Ferry ports etc)
To cater for initially for 1425 passenger per day for 11 nights, plus three days for cleaning and disinfection
Guests will be required to take a Covid test on Day 2 and Day 8
The hotel will be exclusively be used by Covid patients
Serve three meals per day (to include a choice of hot and cold), daily self-serve tea/coffee, fresh fruit & water in rooms (Prices previously paid for this have been between £50 – £80 + Vat i.e. £30 per room + £20 F&B package).
All meals to be served to the Room at no additional cost, with a choice of Menu
If guests do not have planned sufficient clothing required to support their quarantine hotel stay, the hotel will provide cleaning for 7 small items of laundry per week, free of charge with additional laundry services, if required, available for guests to purchase with payment settled directly with the Hotel.
Hotels to open and be ready for guests within 48 hours’ notice, from confirmation that they have been selected
Hotels to be ready to extend for a further period or stood down as required on a rolling 7 days’ notice period
All Hotels to work with DHSC’ chosen external security provider
All Hotels to work with DHSC’ chosen medical and welfare provider
All Hotels to work with DHSC’ chosen Coach/Ground Transportation provider
All incidentals not covered within the pre-paid package to be settled by the individual directly with the Hotel
Hotels must commit to allocating suitable space for safe and secure storage of Covid test kits as required
Hotels must commit to rate loading on Sabre GDS with filing instructions provided by CTM and in order to meet the Go Live Date of 12th Feb 2021
All hotel inventory must be removed from all other distribution channels during the period of exclusive use

Not all hoteliers are so enthusiastic about the government’s handling of whole plan….Try Meher Nawab’s comments, as CEO of The London Hotel Group

The Australian Experience: Australian hotels say COVID-19 quarantine contracts ‘far from a licence to print money’. Hotel quarantine is now extremely costly for returning Australians and millions of dollars of that cash has flowed through to the upended hotel industry — but hotel owners say it is just a drop in the bucket of what has been lost due to COVID-19.

Key points: State government tenders reveal hotel quarantine contracts are have been worth AUD $1-7 million, between March and December 2020
The Accommodation Association says hotel room revenue in Sydney’s CBD has fallen 70 per cent, even including quarantine income
IBISWorld estimates a five-year recovery for the Australian hotel industry
Quarantine contracts with state governments and federal agencies have provided business for many otherwise-empty Australian hotels, with Sydney’s CBD hotels taking in the bulk of overseas arrivals.

Although, some hotels were being kept on government retainers and made money regardless of whether any rooms end up being required.

“We did go through one period in Victoria where the Victorian Government took a contract with my hotel … which was guaranteed for the first month and then it would be renewed for the following months,” hotel owner Jerry Schwartz told the ABC.

“We had absolutely no business at all, so we did get guaranteed income for the first month, although the hotel was empty, which was very disappointing, and then it just slipped away and we had nothing.”

Overall, Dr Schwartz found quarantine contracts have been far from lucrative for his business, making up for just a fraction of the tourist business lost but allowing some staff to keep working.

He estimates net income from his CBD hotels last year was around a third of a typical year, even with the money coming in from quarantine.

While the million-dollar-plus hotel quarantine contracts have provided income during a period of very little regular business, the Accommodation Association found hotel room revenue in Sydney’s CBD has still fallen by around 70 per cent. “It’s far from a licence to print money,” the association’s chief executive Dean Long said.

“Effectively, it has provided some revenue to some hotels, but revenue is very different to profit and different to breaking even. “If you remove JobKeeper, (the Australian government subsidy scheme) it becomes really a loss-making scenario for them.”

Not all quarantine contracts are created equal — while some are guaranteed for a period, others are at the mercy of international flight schedules and only the rooms occupied are paid for, at a heavily discounted rate.

Dr Schwartz said governments paid around $150 per night for some of his hotel rooms, regardless of whether they were at 3- or 5-star hotels. “If you are lucky enough to be on the government list for quarantine business, you may be told, ‘we need these hotel rooms tomorrow’ but the flight might not come in for another week.”

Mr Long predicts more hotel chains will begin to voluntarily leave quarantine programs as it is taking even longer to fill hotels to even 50 per cent capacity after the cap on international arrivals was slashed.

COVID-19 safety precautions require extra staffing in some instances, for example servers rostered on to serve guests at buffets where they would normally help themselves.

Are the big contracts worth the reputational risk?...While CBD-based 4- to 5-star hotels have received some financial boost from the hotel quarantine programs, Mr Cloutman said their reputations have taken a hit. “Consumers are starting to associate these luxury hotels as quarantine hotels, but it’s not something they wanted to be associated with,” he said.

“They want to be associated with luxury — it will take time for hotels to get their luxury brand known again.”

And the Guest: As the guest is pretty much confined to the room, God forbid if the hotel doesn’t have smart TV or free movies!

In the words of a freelance Canadian journalist, Debra Winter that writes for the UK’s Guardian: To have been so careful for over 10 months and to then be quickly ushered, by Australian officials in blue combat fatigues, onto a bus with other international travellers, without dedicated windows that open, and then to be put in a room for two weeks, also without windows that open, was a situation I would never have put myself in in New York.

I know it sounds so basic – almost a silly complaint to make while the virus swirls the globe. But ventilation is key. The World Health Organization has reported that aerosol transmission of Covid-19 can occur in “inadequately ventilated spaces”. A quarantined guest nearby was smoking profusely, which for someone with smoke allergies was extremely uncomfortable, but here’s the catch: if I can smell the guest’s smoke – guess what else I could be breathing? Dear Sydney: Covid-19 is an airborne virus – crawling in insufficiently ventilated airport transport vans and quarantine hotel rooms.

I was surprised, at a few points at Sydney airport, that the health check professionals who mark your entrance cards, and border control, weren’t wearing full PPE – just a mask and not even an N-95. I thought, are they crazy?

A rap at the hotel door three times daily indicates the daily meals have been dropped off. They place it on a chair outside, blocking my door, apparently underestimating my ability to hurdle. I was instructed on checking in to put on my mask and then open the door to pick up the box of food. I haven’t seen anyone yet (I’ve come to think of them as food fairies), as they seem to disappear quickly after the food drop-off. The hallway air – where I am not supposed to step out into – feels slightly fresher, and I have taken to swishing the door back and forth a few times a day to create some circulation, but even that is a worry as the hallway is certainly not better ventilated.

I can tolerate the strict rations of one clean face cloth and towel per week, the no servicing of rooms for two weeks, having to use toilet paper or tissues and body wash to clean surfaces, eating airline-style meals out of mushy cardboard with plastic forks, and even the big fat $3,000 sticker price. But to not have access to any fresh air for two weeks is past what I ever imagined. Even in most jails, prisoners are allowed fresh air each day.

THPT Comment: Another reason why the UK needs a Minister for Hospitality! With the devolved UK government, no-one is 100% sure whether this is just for England, or will include Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland….The 7 page letter sent to hotels last week then goes on in much detail about the general safety requirements that hotel must ensure…. And Australia’s experience suggests it’s not much fun for either hotel or guest!

First Seen: UK Government releases, ABC Australia, The Caterer and the BBC News

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