Head of Hospitality, Jeremy Blake, discusses the strengths of the hospitality industry, while reflecting on the challenges it has faced this year.

Although 2020 has been a challenging year for the hospitality industry, hoteliers and developers have seized the opportunity of refurbishing, remodeling and upgrading while their hotels are largely empty of guests. Similarly, new developments and proposals requiring planning and listed building consent have been progressing at pace without any let up. This is in defiance of the current pandemic crisis, establishing a clear and positive focus on the future of hospitality beyond Covid-19. The industry is unique in as much as it is completely guest focused for its on-going success and while it may have shareholders and owners to satisfy, without customer satisfaction, hotels can fail in an increasingly discerning and competitive marketplace.

Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London, UK

Fortunately, hotels that opened between lockdowns achieved occupancy rates approaching 100% with takings exceeding the whole of the previous calendar year. This simply demonstrates the robustness of the UK hospitality market. Similarly, one UK hotel chain had only 5 rooms left for this Christmas at the end of November.

The Grove Hotel

At the outbreak of Covid-19 in March, hoteliers involved in across resort and country hotels, correctly discerned that the UK market would be resilient enough this year given that international travel was likely to prove unpopular if not undeliverable. However, regional capital and city centre hotels, and especially conference focused hotels, have had a very different experience.

Conference hotels have experienced strong small meeting bookings for businesses between lockdowns, with businesses keen to meet in accessible locations with Covid-19 measures. Outside of restrictive office environments requiring public transport to access, the larger regional, national, and international conferences have all evaporated with no clear indication as to when, if at all, this conference market will return next year.

Restaurants within hotels have also had a similar yo-yo experience during 2020: shut down during lockdown 1, but then boosted by Rishi Sunak’s ‘Eat out to help out’, only to be curtailed by lockdown 2. Notwithstanding these fluctuations, the UK market remains strong across many areas, demonstrating our continuing desire to socialise within our communities.

Against this backdrop of various Covid related impacts on the hospitality market, for Purcell, flagship projects such as Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons have continued to progress strongly.

As with all our projects, site visits and public consultations, presentations to local authorities, Historic England and parish councils, have all had to quickly adapt to online communication. Despite the constraints, the online public consultation for Le Manoir has received nearly 1000 responses from notified local residents and key stakeholders. Of these, over 70% are in favor of the proposals and over 90% agree that Le Manoir should evolve to maintain its unique market position of global gastronomic excellence. It is the only Michelin 2* Restaurant in the world to retain such recognition from the outset and continuing to do so for 36 years. During this time Raymond Blanc has mentored over 50 Michelin Star chefs at Le Manoir.

With positive support from local authorities in determining planning applications within the hospitality sector, 2021 has some exciting projects in store such as Danesfield House and Spa in Marlow. All these follow on from our flagship project at Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park, completed earlier in the year.

As we step into 2021, we can take heart that, despite the difficulties we have all faced in 2020, our hospitality sector remains strong. It looks like we are all quickly adapting to new ways of working as well as searching for new ways of taking those all-important short breaks and longer holidays.