Plea for help as B&B bookings dwindle and fears grow for Harrogate tourism sector

Accommodation providers across Harrogate have warned Tier 2 coronavirus restrictions will be ‘devastating’ for the industry - and the district as a whole - after a difficult year of lockdowns and closures.

Friday, 4th December 2020, 3:00 pm
Updated Friday, 4th December 2020, 3:14 pm

Guest houses and B&Bs in the area say the latest rules will be another nail in the coffin for the sector, with many reporting very few bookings over Christmas and into the new year.

Members of Accommodation Harrogate, the trade association for providers of short stay accommodation in the district, have said they are reeling from ‘yet another blow’, as the restrictions mean guests must only travel with members of their household or support bubble and cannot meet up with others indoors.

Harrogate's accommodation providers are concerned that a lack of winter trade will see many B&Bs and Guest Houses close. Pictured is chair of Accommodation Harrogate Kim Wilson of the Camberley.

Although guest houses are allowed to reopen under ‘Tier 2’ guidelines, they say bookings are at a low for this time of year and they need extra economic support if they are to survive the winter. Already this week, the owners of the Kimberley Hotel on King’s Road have announced they are having to close due to the impact of Covid and the loss of trade.

With the Convention Centre still on standby as a Nightingale Hospital, the valuable conference trade is not likely to be forthcoming for some time, and there are fears that businesses will simply close their doors and never reopen - leaving the town without enough beds for the future.

Kim Wilson, chair of Accommodation Harrogate said: “We have had very little support financially since the initial lockdown in March.

Vice-chair of the Accommodation Harrogate group, Ali Standen - owner of the Acorn Lodge B&B - fears Harrogate could turn into a ghost town.

“The second round of support for local restrictions has been very confusing. The applications opened very late compared to other regions and the criteria was woolly at best. Some of us still don’t know if we are entitled to support and if we do it will hardly cover any costs of the last six weeks or for the rest of the winter.”

The association says a number of other factors are impacting on bookings this year, despite November and December usually being particularly busy months.

With Harrogate Convention Centre currently off-limits and no large-scale events taking place in the area, B&B owners say they have lost a lot of regular guests who routinely travel to take part in the festivities.

Although some indoor conferences and business events can still take place in ‘Tier 2’ with limited capacity, Harrogate is unable to host any due to its transformation into a Nightingale Hospital.

The Harrogate Convention Centre is usually a crucial source of income for the B&B and Guest House trade, but this has not been possible while the site is on standby as a Nightingale emergency hospital.

Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for economic development, Coun Graham Swift, said: “We still have an important role to play in supporting the national effort to respond to the pandemic. We do not know what the future holds as far as coronavirus is concerned and it is still too early to tell whether the Nightingale hospital will be required.

“I hope it will never have to treat a Covid-19 patient, but significant resource has been used to provide this emergency facility, so it makes sense it remains available into next year if our colleagues in the health service do need it.”

Many places across the country have also been placed into ‘Tier 3’ with residents advised not to travel, limiting the number of potential guests for Harrogate’s B&Bs even further.

Vice-chair Ali Standen said: “We do not anticipate bookings this year as most of our guests come for the events in Harrogate.

“November is usually one of our busiest periods that sees us through to spring. This, combined with the fact that many of our guests travel from ‘Tier 3’ areas, is a potential disaster.”

The group is also worried about the knock-on effect the lack of bookings will have on the hospitality sector in the area, as the two usually go hand-in-hand. It has warned that Harrogate could ‘change forever’ if the situation is not addressed.

Ali added: “Hospitality businesses have invested a lot to make ourselves Covid-safe, and we have not seen any evidence that our businesses are a problem in terms of infection. The hospitality industry has been severely hit and in order for businesses to survive we really need some further financial support.

“Harrogate will be a ghost town with no convention centre, events and ultimately fewer choices for people to stay. The landscape of the town could be ultimately changed forever.”

As cancellations continue to rise, members are now calling for more financial support to ensure they can come back fighting next year and keep Harrogate as a top destination for tourists.

Kim said: ‘We need more support, particularly as Harrogate has been hit hard with the loss of the exhibition and event trade. Being in ‘Tier 2’ means we can open, but members report more cancellations than bookings as many of the guests who travel to us are from areas in ‘Tier 3’. This means a worse situation for us as we will not receive any support at all.

“We would like to come back, hopefully in the spring, with our businesses intact and raring to welcome visitors back to our town.”

Coun Swift says HBC is doing all it can to help businesses stay on their feet.

He added: “We have been providing support since the initial lockdown, including paying out more than £50 million to eligible organisations as part of the various national Covid-19 support schemes. Further financial help is available for eligible businesses with two new schemes launching later this month. In 2021, our focus will be bringing v isitors back to the district.”

What support is being provided for our businesses?

Businesses forced to close during the national lockdown are being reminded they still have time to apply for coronavirus support grants of up to £3,000.

The Local Restrictions Support Grants are being distributed by Harrogate Borough Council and businesses have until 6 December to apply.

The grants scheme is supporting businesses which were forced to shut from November 5 - and only companies which were trading before then can apply. Businesses must also have occupied premises on which business rates are paid to be eligible for the grants, which range from £1,334 to £3,000 depending on the rateable value.

Full application criteria, together with an online application form, can be found at www.harrogate.gov.uk/business.

Self-employed workers can also now apply for government grants through an extension of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

The scheme has been extended with two further grants, each available for three month periods covering November 2020 to January 2021 and February 2021 to April 2021. The amount businesses receive will be calculated at 80% of three months average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment and capped at £7,500.

Go to www.gov.uk for more information.

More support is also on the way for the companies affected by the new Tier 2 local restrictions which came into force as the lockdown ended yesterday, 2 December. This will be available to eligible businesses in the leisure, hospitality, hotel and bed and breakfast sectors.

Harrogate Borough Council said it is working to get the scheme up and running as soon as possible and anticipates it will be able to accept applications from mid-December.