Industry Update
Opinion Article20 September 2021

A Small Hotel on the Frontlines with the Delta Variant

By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited

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The delta variant is slowly but inevitably absorbing the news cycle heading into Autumn 2021 as cases swell across the world and governments take pre-emptive measures to stop a fourth wave of COVID-19 from triggering another round of economically harmful lockdowns. Even though all of us yearn for this pandemic to be over, sadly we’re still very much in uncharted water.

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Given this uncertainty, all hoteliers can really do is react and pivot as quickly as possible. Here is one such case study we’ve been authorized to report upon so that you can see how a small hotel handles the situation on the ground and in the moment.

The Falcon Hotel and the Brendon Arms (attached Inn/Pub) are family-owned and operated 40-room properties in Bude, in North Cornwall, UK. Summer is peak season where the bulk of profits are generated to sustain the business through the quiet, winter period. Rupert and Christine Brendon, as well as daughter Sophia, are fifth and sixth generation proprietors living on property. With edits, we’ve assembled a roughly two-week extract of a diary they have maintained through the latest stretch of the pandemic.

July 24, 2021
Chris was interviewed by the Times newspaper but only one staff member at the hotel had been pinged. Since then, we had a guest who tested positive on the lateral flow test and left to go home and get a PCR test. His room was immediately quarantined for 72 hours then deep cleaned. As a precaution we sent home all the wait staff on shifts who served this guest 48 hours previously, a total of ten individuals.

The guest results have come in and he tested positive. We will now ask our ten employees to get a PCR test. Whatever the result, they will have to stay home, self-isolate until a week tomorrow. We were short staffed before this happened, (Brexit, staff who left the industry, etc.) so we have had to cut certain things. One of these is a hot breakfast which takes more servers than a buffet. We are giving a refund of £6.50 per head but serving a good buffet of juices, cereals, fresh fruit, yogurt, cheeses, sliced meats, smoked salmon, croissants, toast, tea, and coffee.

We hope that none of the ten staff develop COVID-19 and normal service (which was reduced anyway) resumes as quickly as possible. Staff and owner exhaustion is more likely.

July 26, 2021
Just when we thought things could not get worse, they just did. A dishwasher has tested positive for COVID-19. That affects all the kitchen and wait staff who interacted with him on Sunday and Monday. We are closing the kitchen and sending staff home.

We think we can continue with cold buffet breakfast then maybe offer beverage and pizza to residents only for tonight. We’re scrambling to inform all residents as well as cancel all non-resident meal reservations for the next ten days. We are surprised that most people do not cancel their accommodation reservations. Lack of European travel has made Brits desperate for a staycation break. Cornwall is rammed.

July 27, 2021
Another example of COVID-19 affecting operations. The laundry that does all our room linens underdelivered by one third this morning. They have drivers who are in quarantine. The driver today normally does a job in the office. His driving license did not allow him to drive their largest trucks, so he had to use a smaller truck. And so, it goes. The supermarket shelves are showing some out of stocks, too.

July 28, 2021
Covid has created a shortage of lorry drivers. Haulers are also threatening a one-day strike. Yesterday I had to take four large bags of dirty linen to the local Coin-Op laundry while Chris and receptionist phoned and cancelled non-residents table reservations.

August 5, 2021
More bad news came today. A barman at the Brendon Arms was confirmed via PCR test to have COVID-19. Most staff have been sent home until August 14th. The pub will close for food and drink. B&B will stay open for residents who choose not to cancel. Luckily for the two days prior to the barman testing positive he had not interacted with the chefs in the kitchen nor those who worked in the office. We have insufficient bar and wait staff to serve non-residents save for a skeleton crew who can serve breakfast. There was no option but to close the pub to non-residents.

August 6, 2021
Here we go again. The hotel got back to normal yesterday only to have a different dishwasher test positive for COVID-19. So, for a third time we had to quarantine the 20 staff members (chefs and wait staff) who had interacted with him (defined as within two meters for a cumulative 15 minutes). So again, we will limp by with a much-reduced staff and menu, coping the best we can.

Meanwhile the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was visiting Scotland, when a member of his entourage tested positive for Covid, but Boris has refused to self-isolate, attracting the ire of the hospitality industry who are forced to follow the rules.

Every hotel is different in terms of geography, physical makeup, organizational structure, and brand perceptions, but COVID-19 doesn’t care; it just infects. Given the rolling crises in terms of having to reorganize staff and reservations for a small hotel, planning for the delta variant is something that every hotel must do now before the seasons change.

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