For many people the prospect of a holiday will be a welcome relief from the last few months of lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic.
But as foreign travel is still difficult and the 14-day quarantine period hangs over any potential plans – you might want to consider a “staycation” break in England instead.
In welcome news for the hospitality industry, from 4 July hotels, B&Bs, hostels, self-catered accommodation and many other types of rental in England, are permitted to reopen.
But how safe is it to be staying somewhere with lots of other guests, or in a bed that someone else has slept in?
What do the government rules say?
After months of closure, hotels, B&Bs, hotels, boarding houses, rental cottages and homes, caravan parks, AirBnB and other accommodation can all reopen from 4 July – just in time for the holiday season. They will have to be Covid-compliant and follow a new VisitEngland standard.
These new rules will include: having to introduce deep cleaning between guests, making meal services like breakfast pre-booked and timed (and table service not buffet), encouraging contactless payments, introducing one-way systems in communal areas and lobbies.
Reception areas should be made safer by reducing the time guests spend there, and adding screens to counter areas, hotels should “minimise” lift usage from reception, where offering room service drop trays outside the door, encourage guests to wear masks on communal corridors and remind all housekeeping staff to regularly wash hands. They also recommend cleaning keys between guests.
Current government guidance states that private rooms in all indoor accommodation with en-suite showering facility, or one designated shower facility per guest room, will be able to reopen. Shared toilet facilities can also be opened. If shared toilet and shower facilities are in the same room, guests are able to use the toilet but can only use the shower if it is assigned to one household or support bubble or run using a reservation and clean rota.
The government strongly advises that shared sleeping spaces (i.e. dormitory rooms) should not be open to any groups, except those travelling with a household group. Other shared facilities (including shared showers and kitchens, but not toilets) should not open, except on campsites (and only in accordance with government guidelines for cleaning or use).
When guests book they should be made aware of limits on gatherings and non-mixing of more than two household groups. All accommodation should keep guests details on file for 21 days.
For camping, caravanning, motorhomes and holiday parks, further government-approved guidance is available on the National Caravan Council, British Holiday and Home Parks Association websites. British Marine for hotel boats and holiday boat hire. And for self-catering accommodation, refer to the Professional Association of Self Caterers; the B&B Association; the Short Term Accommodation Association and the Country Land and Business Association.
How safe are hotels and B&Bs?
Dr Simon Clarke, professor in microbiology at University of Reading, says: “All of the risk here is incumbent on hotel and B&B owners to simply make sure they are clean enough – customers will have to rely on the hotel to do things properly because that risk comes from meeting other people in shared spaces – like a rented room.
“We know that they clean rooms between guests normally, but they wouldn’t necessarily clean all the touch points (wall light switches, lamp switch next to the bed, wardrobe doors).
“Caravan parks are less risky because people are going to be taking their own caravan or motorhome, but again you have to be wary of shared spaces like washing or toilet facilities.”
Dr Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University and on the Department of Health’s Nervtag (New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Group), which advises the Chief Medical Officer on the threat posed by new viruses, says he is seeing a lot of hotels introducing very thorough cleanliness policies, which he believes are more than adequate to prevent high risk. He says: “For example, there is no need to leave a room empty for 72 hours between guests, but some are suggesting this.”
What can you do to keep safe?
Don’t spend lots of time in the breakfast room or hanging around the bar. If you are eating in communal spaces then use table service, don’t interact with other guests and don’t linger in bar areas or the lobby – go back to your room after you’ve eaten. Alternatively get room service if available.
Give less obvious surfaces a wipe. Dr Clarke says although it isn’t essential, if it gives you peace of mind then take your own wipes and do the less obvious touch points – like the light switches and wardrobe handles or hangers. These might be overlooked by cleaning staff but are very likely to be included.