Business management

Changing rooms: the hotel sector and Covid-19

Across the UK, hotels are providing rooms for healthcare workers and other vulnerable people.

  • Hotel rooms are best suited to accommodating NHS workers and low-risk patients that receive home care, rather than those requiring specialist care
  • Major hotel chains are in ongoing discussions to support vulnerable groups such as the homeless, who will find it particularly difficult to self-isolate
  • Despite a decline in profit in the hotel industry of between 11% and 29% year on year in 2020, “a near complete bounce back in 2021” is predicted

Best Western was the first hotel group to offer help to the NHS and is currently co-ordinating efforts to offer bed capacity. Its approach, which it may be able to extend to all 270 of its hotels, is to make them discharge hospitals – where patients can go who would usually receive home care but are unable to in current conditions. The Hotel Rembrandt in Weymouth is also due to become a discharge hospital, with 31 beds equipped appropriately, and will be staffed by 13 care home workers.

Potential logistical issues for hotels include retraining staff, changing shift patterns and arranging insurance.

“We are repurposing our technology and our call centres to manage the interest and the demand,” says Best Western CEO Rob Paterson. The brand is now in further conversation with NHS hospitals and local councils, “to help provide accommodation for NHS staff, care workers, lower-risk patients and vulnerable people, such as the elderly.”

The Grange at Oborne, a hotel near Sherborne, Dorset, is expected to take a further number of patients. “We want to help free up urgent bed space in the NHS by taking low-risk patients and carers,” Paterson adds.

Collaborative measures

So can hotels really operate as fully functioning hospitals?

“If you look at the new Nightingale hospital at London’s ExCeL, there are huge wards with beds set 3 or 4 metres apart,” says Siôn Edwards, a GP and NHS adviser working in the Newport, Wales area, one of the UK’s coronavirus hotspots. “They are very much open-plan. Normally in an intensive care unit you might have a nurse looking after each bed, and a consultant looking after six beds. In a hotel, patients would be in separate rooms and it’s going to be very hard for the staff to move between them quickly.” Nurses will have to look after three or four beds, he says, “and the consultant will have 12 or more instead of six.”

We are seeing hotels being repurposed for accommodating medical staff. Staff who have had to self-isolate from family need to be accommodated separately, near the hospital where they are still working

Siôn Edwards
GP and NHS adviser

Hospitals are being established in conference centres in most major UK cities, Edwards adds, “but there won’t be the correspondingly large number of consultants and nurses that you need”. In addition, the kind of specialist care required for Covid-19 patients – specifically ventilators – requires an open-plan layout “and it’s hard to envisage hotels being able to do that”.

The Nightingale Hospital opened at the ExCeL last Friday, with initial plans to provide up to 500 beds equipped with ventilators and oxygen, according to an ExCeL spokesperson. “The capacity will then continue to increase, potentially up to several thousand beds, should it be required.” It is now expected to offer quickly some 4,000 beds, in anticipation of intensive care units in London’s surrounding hospitals being at capacity.

In Birmingham the NEC is collaborating with both the NHS and the Ministry of Defence “to plan, build and open a field hospital as quickly as possible,” according to CEO Paul Thandi. “We will now offer the necessary resource and assistance in adapting the NEC appropriately, ready for imminent use.”

Alternative arrangements

What hotels can do very well, Edwards says, is offer rooms to NHS workers. “We are seeing hotels being repurposed for accommodating medical staff. Staff who have had to self-isolate from family, because of a pregnant wife or an immunocompromised member of the household, for example, need to be accommodated separately, near the hospital where they are still working.”

Hotels are also in a position to help vulnerable sections of society, such as the homeless. “This is a special group at risk, and hotels can make a significant difference,” says Edwards. Homeless people “have lower life expectancy, their nutritional status is poor, and many will have substance abuse, alcohol abuse, mental-health problems or all three.”

Homeless people are “far more likely to have serious manifestations of Covid-19,” Edwards adds, “and they find social distancing very difficult. Finding a solution is essential.”

Larger operators planning to help

Brands including Hilton, Travelodge, IHG’s Holiday Inn and Whitbread’s Premier Inn are also in discussion about how their hotels can most appropriately be used by the NHS. Hilton is focusing on accommodating NHS employees, either because they have travelled to help out, want to protect families from potential infection, or simply don’t have time to travel home due to long shifts. A further possibility is for hotels to deploy cleaners, who might otherwise be furloughed, to bring their skills to existing hospitals.

Will Covid-19 change consumer behaviour in the long term? It’s likely that consumers will see greater appreciation of what the service industry does, on the basis that we notice how important something is once it’s taken away from us. The figures suggest a profit decline for the hotel industry of between 11% and 29% year on year in 2020, according to industry analysts Bernstein, with the wide variable indicating the hugely unpredictable nature of the pandemic’s length. But the same source predicts “a near complete bounce back in 2021”. Hospitality, particularly in the hotel sector, is resilient.

While this year is understandably gloomy – and the response of hotels to offer their services to the NHS shows enormous reserves of goodwill, lateral thinking and energy – the one reasonably confident prediction is that this situation is temporary.

“Every day counts now for people on the frontline,” says Paterson of Best Western. “We want the NHS to know we are here to help. If our rooms and our support can be part of the solution that brings [mortality figures] down, then we will have done our job.”

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

scroll to top