Harrogate hotelier warns of tough winter for hospitality sector - but says district will enjoy busy summer as staycations rise

A leading Harrogate hotelier believes the district is up for the challenge of welcoming visitors back this summer - but has warned the ‘real struggle’ for our crucial hospitality sector will come later this year.

Peter Banks, Managing Director at Rudding Park, reopened the doors to the luxury hotel earlier this week with strict hygiene and social distancing measures in place and says the resort’s booking list looks promising for the season.

He told the Harrogate Advertiser: “We reopened our holiday park, along with its on-site pub, on July 4 and the bookings have been pouring in for that. It seems like people are desperate for a staycation this year and just the chance to get away, but most people want to be outside at the minute and make the most of the fresh air and the countryside.

Peter Banks, Managing Director of Rudding Park.

“The demand for golfing holidays and self-catering has been fantastic and we have been really impressed by the demand. The hotel side of things is slightly quieter, which is a little more concerning, but we are still hopeful for a good summer.”

The new measures introduced at the hotel include contactless checking in, using apps to order food and temperature checks for guests and staff.

But with a reopening date for the spa facility still unclear, Mr Banks is worried some people will put off booking the hotel until they have free reign of the facilities - something which could have a negative financial impact on the rest of the year.

He added: “From a resort perspective, not having the spa open isn’t great. The older demographic seem to be more cautious and still staying at home, with the younger generation more excited to get back out there - but when they call and find out the spa isn’t open yet they say they’ll reschedule for another time because they want to make the most of the experience.

“I completely understand why, but I do have worries about the knock-on effect this could have for hospitality.

“At the moment, people are still looking for luxury experiences - many have managed to save up a little bit through the lockdown and now want to get away, no expense spared, even if that means waiting a little while until everything is fully open. But what happens when the money runs out and the recession hits? We are coming up with lots of new ideas and we are confident in our services, but I think the winter is when reality will hit and hospitality will face a real struggle.”

Mr Banks is also the Chair of Harrogate Hospitality and Tourism Association, which has welcomed the Government’s reduction in VAT for the hospitality sector as an ‘urgent response to the coronavirus pandemic to support businesses severely affected by forced closures and social distancing measures’.

He said: “As an association, we need to collectively ensure that our messaging stresses that this is Government support to hospitality businesses to help them survive this crisis. It is not and was never intended to be a reduced-price offer to the general public.

“We welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement offering a helping hand to the hospitality industry by reducing the VAT rate and it is vital to our sector to retain the 15% cut to cover losses as a result of the pandemic. However, some hospitality businesses have been approached by guests to pass on the reduction which is not what HMRC intended when announcing this measure.

“The VAT Reduction Scheme is a lifeline to our businesses to overcome the impact of safe distancing. These measures have a limiting effect on how many customers can be accommodated and on hospitality businesses’ ability to generate an income. The Government has announced a number of different initiatives to encourage the public to visit hospitality businesses including safe distancing measures and the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme.”

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